State Expands Nantucket Sound Artificial Reefs 

By: William F. Galvin

The Robert B. Our Company crew makes sure its barge is in the proper location for reef expansion. WILLIAM F.GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – The artificial reef constructed 2.2 miles south of Saquatucket Harbor in 2016 converted a section of baron sea bottom in Nantucket Sound into a thriving recreational fishing spot. 

A barged owned by the Robert B. Our Company was stationed over the reef last Wednesday morning loaded with granite and concrete. The Harwich-based company has been working with the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to expand two artificial reefs in the Sound.

It’s been very successful. We always see fish when we’re on the reef. It’s popular, there are always people fishing there,” Mark Rousseau, fisheries habitat manager for DMF, said shortly after the Our company began distributing blocks of granite and concrete over a delineated five-acre section of the 9.88-acre site. The granite blocks fill in sections of the existing reef and expand the fisheries habitat to the west. Rousseau estimated between 800 to 1,000 cubic yards of material was used to expanded the reef.

Our has been working with the agency to expand an artificial reef off Bass River as well. The site was approved for a 127-acre reef, he said. The Our Company barge has made three trips to the reef in recent weeks. Rousseau said there are always six to 10 boats fishing the Bass River reef when he visits it. Located two miles outside Bass River, the reef was constructed in 1978 using tires filled with concrete. Between 1,600 and 2,000 cubic yards of material has been placed on the reef in recent weeks, bringing the total material placed on the Bass River reef to 4,000 cubic yards, he said.

The reef expansion projects take place when there is material available to be placed on them. Concrete and granite are the materials of choice. The initial reef construction project off of Harwich was composed of concrete from the foundation of the former Harwich High School and miscast catch basins.

There are community ties to that reef,” Rousseau said of the materials used in the Harwich reef.

The new granite and concrete came from the extension of the South Coast Commuter Rail from Taunton to Fall River. All of the granite bridge abutments and concrete culverts along that stretch of rail needed to be replaced, Rousseau said. The material filled an acre of space at the Marine Commerce Terminal in New Bedford, where it was stored for three yeas. It needed to be moved because the site is soon to be leased.

The reef off Harwich is located about 30 feet below the water surface and has created a habitat that draws large numbers of fish, including black sea bass, cunner, sea robin, scup and tautog. When the reef was created, DMF put in place regulations making the site off limits to commercial fishermen; only recreational fishing is allowed.

DMF’s vessel, which marked the area of expansion of the reef on Wednesday, had engine problems and did not remain to do the distribution of materials, but Rousseau said DMF would be putting divers in the water and recording underwater video to observe the reef structure. Within a month DMF will be conducting a side scan of the whole site to get a more thorough visual of the reef.

When asked if DMF would be doing additional reef expansions in the future, Rousseau said there is no stockpile of materials at this time, “but we’re always interested in expanding the reefs.”