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Artificial Reef Plans Afloat Again : Fishermen Revive Favorite Idea That Failed a Decade Ago

September 08, 1986|KRISTINA LINDGREN | Times Staff Writer

The last artificial reef off Huntington Beach--25,000 old tires lashed together with nylon cord and anchored with concrete weights--was anything but a success.

Less than a year after its placement a mile offshore in 1976, winter storms tore loose the bonds, littering Bolsa Chica and Huntington state beaches with thousands of tires.

A spokesman for the fishing club that sponsored the 700-foot-long reef said ruefully at the time, "The road to hell is paved with our good intentions--and our tires."

Now, there is a new plan for a reef to attract fish, whose populations along the coast are in decline. This one would be made of concrete rubble and located about four miles off Bolsa Chica. This time, the state Department of Fish and Game is running the show, and sport fisherman Russell Izor couldn't be happier.

"There are way too few places to fish, and way too many fishermen out here in these waters," said Izor, skipper of a San Pedro-based charter boat who led the charge for the tire reef, and for years after its demise lobbied for more artificial reefs to attract fish.

Kenneth C. Wilson, a state marine biologist, said the proposed reef would act as "underwater condominiums" for fish, providing new grounds for feeding and spawning, as well as protection from predators in an area of otherwise barren, sandy bottom.

It would be one of a half dozen artificial reefs Wilson and marine biologist John Grant plan to install from Santa Barbara County south to San Diego Bay as part of the Department of Fish and Game's Near Shore Sportfish Habitat Enhancement Program. When finished, it would be one of the largest man-made fishing reefs in California.

It also would be within easy reach of numerous marinas in Orange County, San Pedro and Long Beach, providing an alternative to San Pedro Bay's heavily fished Horseshoe Kelp reef, which is smack in the middle of some of the world's busiest commercial shipping lanes.

Some agencies initially opposed the reef, but Wilson and Grant said most of the objections have been worked out, except those of commercial fishermen, who fear their catch would be jeopardized.

Marine biologists argue that everybody benefits from the plan, which awaits final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Over the last 50 to 60 years, there has been tremendous fishing pressure along the Southern California coast," Wilson said. "Man's impact on the environment through pollution and fishing has caused a diminishing of the fishing stock and the habitat that supports it."

The new reef would be fashioned in a rectangle from old naval barges and rubble from a San Pedro-area causeway. Each mound, to be constructed of 1,000 tons of concrete, would be 6 feet high, 100 feet long and 50 feet wide.

Surplus barges, provided by the U.S. Navy, would be sunk along the center of the reef, which would stretch 1 1/2 miles long and a quarter of a mile wide.

Grant said that once the Corps of Engineers approves the project, probably by mid-September, the materials would be barged out to sea at a cost of $126,000, to be paid with a grant from the state Wildlife Conservation Board and state fisheries enhancement funds.

Not everyone has been so enthusiastic about the project.

Initially, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach objected to the reef because it was considered too close to the outer perimeter of the shipping lanes. The U.S. Coast Guard and the marine pilots that guide the large vessels to anchorage also expressed concern.

To solve these problems, the proposed reef was moved a few miles from the original location, south of Anaheim Bay, to the area off Bolsa Chica.

But the California Gillnetters Assn. remains steadfast in its opposition.

Association Vice President Anthony West said the rubble mounds would tear and tangle nets in an area where gill-net operators have fished without trouble for years.

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