More than 50 fishermen attend reef sites public hearing

January 26, 2013

If anyone is out there hunting or fishing, they deserve an award for dedication to the sport. I guess I have gotten accustomed to the mild weather we have enjoyed for the past two years and now I am dressing like an Eskimo just to retrieve the mail and the paper. There is a chance I may get to deer hunt next week, and I have a trip offshore for sea bass and tilefish in the works, but not unless the weather improves.

Public hearing on Delaware reef sites

Last Wednesday, Jan. 16, a public hearing on designating five Delaware reef sites in the ocean as Special Management Zones was held in the Division of Watershed Stewardship Building in Lewes. I counted more than 50 people, and it was standing room only. I found it heartening to see so many recreational fishermen come out in support of an issue.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is responsible for informing the public on this issue, and they are the ones who will have the final say on the matter. Ric Seagraves, fishery management specialist, explained the process and why it is needed at this time.

As it currently stands, the Delaware artificial reefs in federal waters can be fished with commercial gear including pots used to harvest sea bass. This has caused problems as the pots make it difficult to fish with hook and line, and this creates what the bureaucrats call a conflict.

The second and more important aspect of this conflict is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to suspend any further funding of Delaware reef sites unless they are designated as SMZ where no gear other than hook and line or spear may be used. The loss of federal funds would mean the end of the Delaware reef program. The Fish and Wildlife Service has already suspended the funding of reef sites in New Jersey.

Delaware has passed regulations prohibiting commercial gear on reef sites in state waters. The same is necessary in federal waters or we will also lose our funding.

When a new reef site is proposed, a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers must be obtained. This would necessitate an environmental impact study, among other requirements, before work can proceed.

Once the permit is granted, funding for reef construction must be obtained. Buyinig the material, cleaning it to federal standards and transporting to the site all cost money.

Jeff Tinsman, head of the Delaware reef program, has done an outstanding job of bringing 13 fishing reefs to Delaware waters with minimum cost to Delaware taxpayers. He has been extremely successful in obtaining reef material for little or no cost and using the value of the material to match federal money at a three-to-one basis. If Jeff finds donated material worth $250,000, he can turn that into a $750,000 contribution from the feds. The federal money comes from a 5 percent excise tax on all fishing equipment.

The New York transit system’s old railroad cars were a perfect example of how the system works. The transit system donated the cars and cleaned them for use in reef sites. The value of these cars and the cleaning was used to acquire matching funds from the feds to pay for transporting them to Reef Site 11. This reef site sits in federal waters and is one of the areas proposed for SMZ designation.

Once the various sites receive Special Management Zone status, the Mid-Atlantic Council can prohibit the use of any gear except hook and line or spear for fishing in these areas. A buffer zone of 1,000 yards around the reef sites was proposed by the Coast Guard to make enforcement easier.

Another choice was the time frame for the SMZ. The preferred option was a year-round SMZ status that would not limit the time to coincide with sea bass or other seasons. It was pointed out that these sites are used year-round by flounder, tog, croaker and other types of fishermen, not just for sea bass fishing.

Everyone who spoke was in favor of a year-round SMZ that would limit gear to hook and line and spear fishing for all reef sites in federal waters. At the end of the hearing, a vote was taken on this plan and it was unanimous.

The Mid-Atlantic Council will take up the matter of SMZ at the February meeting. This is when we will hear from the commercial lobby, and I expect them to oppose removing any part of federal waters from pots or any other type of commercial gear. Delaware recreational fishermen have done all they can; now it is up to the council.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

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