Artificial reef fish usage compared to natural reef in the Chesapeake Bay
Restoration of habitats in the Chesapeake Bay has been occurring for many years and the benefits can be seen for numerous organisms in the area. Reef balls have been used to create hard substrate in estuaries that oysters can settle on and establish new reefs. These structures are also three dimensional and offer refuge for fish as well as a potential food source as the reef becomes a living habitat. The type of fish, size and abundance that can be found using the artificial reef can be important for future restoration projects and determination of ecosystem services that can be gained from similar projects. We have completed some experiments and will continue to collect data on the fish usage of these artificially created reefs. We have done this at various times during a few summers to look at temporal changes in the fish present. We also are comparing our data to Maryland Department of Natural Resources data for this site and a nearby natural reef. This was done on the reef structure as well as nearby adjacent areas with similar conditions.
We found that we had a much higher catch per minute rate on the reef than off the reef. We did find that the fish caught off the reef were on average a little larger (by species) than the fish caught on the reef. From the data collected during this experiment, we can conclude that fish are more abundant on the artificial reef structure and that white perch (Morone americana) are the most abundant of the species that are recreationally caught by hook and line both on and off the reef in this area. We then compared this data with a nearby natural reef and could see that the species and sizes found were similar but the catch rates were not as high on the artificial reef as they were on the natural reef. This allows us to make the statement that the artificial reefs created with reef balls are not only beneficial to oysters but also used by several of the recreationally important species of fish, but that it takes time for the artificial reef to get to the same usage as the natural reef.