Saltwater Habitat Restoration: Fish Habitat Enhancement Under Private Docks
Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery is involved in a pilot project with the SC Department Natural Resources Marine Division to evaluate the placement of artificial reefs under private docks to improve fish and shellfish habitat and improve recreational fishing opportunities. This project demonstrates multiple benefits by removing marine debris from area marshes, promote oyster reef development to improve water quality, enhance recreational fishing opportunities and to involve the public in stewardship of natural resources. Removal of abandoned crab traps has the additional benefit of eliminating “ghost fishing” which occurs when lost or abandoned crab traps continue to kill crabs and fish that are not harvested. During 2010, owners of private docks located on Bohicket Creek, SC were invited to become involved with the creation and improvement of fish habitat while increasing recreational fishing opportunities around their docks. The response was extremely positive and six docks were chosen for the pilot study, which was funded through SARP (Southeastern Aquatic Resource Partnership). Pre-sampling was conducted around all docks before any structures were deployed. Oyster reefs were then created under three of the docks by placing recycled crab traps under each test dock. The traps were closed so they could no longer fish, coated in concrete and seeded with oyster shell before being deployed, making them ideal habitat for oyster larvae to colonize. The structures were allowed to mature during the remainder of the 2010 season. Three comparable docks with no oyster reef structures were selected as controls. Sampling will continue through summer 2011 to determine if the reef structures increased fish abundance. Preliminary results indicate that recreational fish abundance has increased in areas where reefs were constructed. This effort serves as a model partnership to “connect people with nature” and encourage public participation in restoring aquatic habitat. Due to public interest, the SCDNR has obtained additional grants to expand the project into the Charleston Harbor area.