Project contacts: Mark Rousseau, Bob Glenn, Kelly Whitmore
Reef Ball units being prepared for deployment
Reef Ball units being prepared for deployment

Artificial reefs have proliferated in the coastal and inland waters of the U.S. over the past 30 years.  The overall benefits of constructed reefs have been questioned since it is still unknown whether reefs result in attraction or production (A-P).   It is likely that the benefits of artificial reefs vary with coastal region, species occurrence, habitat function for each life stage, and natural habitat abundance and quality. While debate over artificial reef benefits will likely continue for many years, it is apparent that many groups, particularly salt-water anglers, divers and local governments readily support reef development.  Therefore, MarineFisheries maintains an artificial reef program to research questions related to reef productivity and habitat value, and develop best management practices for reef construction and monitoring.

An Artificial Reef is defined as follows for Massachusetts' waters:
Any area within the marine waters of the Commonwealth in which approved structures have intentionally been placed or constructed for the purpose of enhancing benthic relief. Such structures may be designed to provide opportunities for recreational and commercial fishing, aid in the management or enrichment of fishery resources, or to achieve a combination of these objectives.

MarineFisheries' Artificial Reef Policy pdf format of artificial_reef_policy.pdf
file size 4MB

A multibeam image of the reef structures and the cobble fill covering the HubLine.
A multibeam image of the reef structures and the cobble fill covering the HubLine.

As part of the Hubline mitigation process, MarineFisheries installed a cobble/boulder artificial reef. A peer reviewed monitoring program was developed to compare species diversity and abundance to that of a natural rock reef. To date abundance and diversity of marine invertebrates and vertebrates has increased at an amazing rate, but it does not yet mimic adjacent natural reefs. In order to establish a timeline and examine the effectiveness of this type of mitigation, MarineFisheries continues to monitor the reef. A full project description is detailed on the Boston Harbor Bottom Enhancement page.

Nantucket Sound Artificial Reef Project

Artificial reef development has been proposed as a technique to provide additional recreational fishing opportunities in Nantucket Sound.  In 2006, $40k received from the MA Seaport Advisory Council to conduct a site selection survey in Nantucket Sound to determine potential for installing a new artificial reef.  Project staff collaborated with the Towns of Harwich and Yarmouth to conduct a comparative survey of a potential new artificial reef location to an existing artificial reef located in state waters off the coast of Yarmouth.  An established exclusion mapping technique was used to identify potential locations 30 feet or greater in water depth, away from any areas of potential archaeological significance, and in areas that would not restrict traditional fishing activities.  A three tiered comparative survey consisting of a sidescan sonar survey, photo groundtruthing, and diver transect surveys was conducted at the Yarmouth reef site and in an area in state waters off the coast of Harwich.   Click here pdf format of Artificial Reef Sites
for more detailed information about this survey.

Results of the survey to determine if a potential artificial reef location is possible in this area are currently being analyzed.  What we have been able to conclude from this survey is that the existing Yarmouth reef site  appears to be functioning as suitable seasonal habitat for several important recreational species including black sea bass (including many juveniles), tautog, blue runner, lesser amber jack and scup.


An established artificial habitat at the Yarmouth, MA artificial reef site. Video taken by MarineFisheries staff.




A diver survey conducted on the Yarmouth, MA artificial reef. Video take by MarineFisheries staff.


Statewide Site Selection
Massachusetts' fisheries are renewable resources that are of importance to the economic and social needs of the people. They contribute to the supply of valuable fisheries products, tourism, and to state revenues. If properly managed, marine resources can be maintained and enhanced. Interest concerning artificial reef development has increased to new levels, producing more efforts by outside user groups and political forces to create reefs. Total effort in saltwater recreational fishing has grown immensely in Massachusetts' waters over the past decade primarily because of improved fishing conditions for striped bass. It is likely that fishing interests will become more diverse in coming years and will lead to fierce competition for good fishing sites. All these factors will increase public demand for artificial reef development.

MarineFisheries is the lead agency in the Commonwealth for the management and enhancement of marine fisheries resources, and the promotion and development of the recreational and commercial marine fisheries. Creation of artificial habitat can be effective in providing additional recreational and commercial fishing opportunities, and enhancing the forage base. This agency will support and participate in such enhancement efforts if these activities do not disrupt traditional fishing practices and shipping, or adversely impact existing fish populations or habitat.

In order to plan for reefs in an integrated manner, MarineFisheries is creating a statewide site selection model to identify locations in the state where placing new reefs will be less likely to conflict with existing uses and resources.

Pertinent Links
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)
Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC)
Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia
Guidelines for Marine Artificial Reef Materials, Second Edition