Ventless trap survey of New Jersey’s artificial reefs

Reliable data on the relative abundance of marine fishery resources are important for accurate stock assessment models and informing fishery management. Bottom trawls are commonly used to survey marine fishery resources,  but they usually avoid complex substrates, such as reefs and shipwrecks. Therefore, there is a need for alternative or supplementary surveys using fixed-gears (e.g., traps, longlines, rod-and-reel) that are more effective at sampling these habitats and might provide a more reliable index of relative abundance for structure-associated species such as black sea bass, tautog, or lobster.

Woman in blue hat on boat with trap
Photo credit: Doug Zemeckis

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife has a large artificial reef program to support marine life and improved fishing and diving opportunities. The reefs are constructed by sinking concrete and metal structures at designated artificial reef sites. In order to develop methods  to conduct long-term surveys to monitor trends in marine community composition and relative abundance, we are conducting a multi-year ventless trap survey on two of New Jersey’s artificial reefs (Sea Girt Reef and Little Egg Inlet Reef). With funding from the NJDEP, traps are deployed and monitored on the reefs each spring, summer, and fall. The relative abundance and biological data collected from the trap catches will provide insights into changes in community composition between years, seasons, reefs, and substrate types.

Additionally, the NJDEP is beginning construction of a new artificial reef, referred to as the Manasquan Inlet Reef, off the coast of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Our survey is also monitoring this reef site in order to investigate community composition before, during, and after reef construction.

Collectively, the results from this project will be valuable for informing the assessment and management of New Jersey’s fisheries, and also the operations of the NJDEP Artificial Reef Program. In the longer-term, this project will also advise the design of broader-scale, coastwide trap surveys off New Jersey and throughout the northeast.