State: Harwich Artificial Reef Is Flourishing; Shark Pays A Visit

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Sharks , sportfishing

Schools of black sea bass, cunner and tautog swim around the artificial reef. MASS DMF PHOTO

HARWICH PORT A couple of miles off Harwich Port, school is in session at Harwich High.

On Nov. 3, divers inspecting the new artificial reef made from debris from the demolished Harwich High School were pleased to find the site crowded with schools of tautog, black sea bass and cunner.

“It was gratifying,” said Mark Rousseau, the artificial reef coordinator for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Rousseau and colleague Vin Malkoski donned scuba gear and descended to the site.

“The objective of that dive that day was to collect some photos and videos to monitor the progress of the reef itself,” he said. “There were a lot of fish.”

In a video posted online, the divers saw schools of various species, creating a scene that looked a bit like a tropical aquarium, albeit in duller hues. The display was impressive, but Rousseau said it wasn't surprising, 225 days after the reef was installed.

“We expected it. Species like black sea bass are prone to utilizing structure wherever they are,” Rousseau said. The bottom of Nantucket Sound is largely featureless, he noted. The reef was constructed using miscast catch basins and remains from the former high school foundation. The $146,000 for the project came from DMF's recreational saltwater fish permit fees.

Installed in a square zone about 650 feet across, the reef is actually a series of distinct piles of debris.

“Patch habitat characteristics are what science says right now are the most important for species diversity,” Rousseau said. The edges of each debris pile represent boundaries between different habitats, and these edges are productive areas for marine life.

Built for recreational, not commercial, fishing use, the artificial reef was a popular destination for charter fishing boats over the summer, and should remain a popular fishing ground for species like black sea bass.

“It's a sought-out recreational species,” Rousseau said.

During the dive, Rousseau and Malkoski also inspected an acoustic receiver, installed to detect and record the presence of tagged fish. Researchers attach acoustic tags to all kinds of fish species, and the receiver installed near the reef picked up 66 pings since May, representing 14 different tagged fish – mostly striped bass passing through on their northerly migration. “There was also an Atlantic sturgeon picked up,” he said. The receiver also recorded the presence of a great white shark (see below).

The town of Harwich can be proud of its role in creating the reef, Rousseau noted. The Monomoy Regional School District contributed the foundation fragments from the old high school, and town officials agreed to store the material at the town landfill until the reef was ready to be installed.

Myra Visits Harwich Port

HARWICH PORT The great white shark named Myra made a close pass by the new artificial reef last month, providing more evidence that the predators at least pass through Nantucket Sound.

The reef is located about two miles south of Bank Street Beach, and about five miles to the west of Monomoy Island.

The nine-foot female shark was tagged off Chatham on July 15 and passed by the new reef exactly three months later. Divers inspecting the site considered the possibility that sharks would be in the water in October, so they planned their dive for November.

The acoustic tag only tells researchers that the shark passed close by, not where it was going. White sharks have been detected in Nantucket Sound before, but they gather in greater numbers in areas with large populations of seals, their primary food source.


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