The REEF Act: A National Boost for Offshore Fish Habitat

Highlights

  • H.R. 5306, the Reusing Equipment for Environmental Fortification (REEF) Act, was introduced by Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar that will provide significant benefits for recreational anglers.
  • Recently, Congresswoman Salazar secured the REEF Act as an amendment to H.R. 4350, the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House of Representatives on a significant bipartisan vote on September 23.
  • The REEF Act will provide a pathway for retired naval vessels to become artificial reefs, providing habitat for important recreational reef fish species and a boost for local coastal economies.

Why it matters: Many coastal states have artificial reef programs that sink anything from fabricated concreate balls or pyramids to old ships, when they are available, to provide habitat for fish and rich targets for anglers and divers in the area. Congress is proposing to significantly boost these programs with the Reusing Equipment for Environmental Fortification (REEF) Act, which will require the Secretary of the Navy to report when a vessel is being retired from the Naval Vessel Register. Providing access to substantial reefing materials in the form of decommissioned U.S. Navy ships will allow many states an opportunity to substantially increase their offshore habitat for reef fish and fishing opportunities for anglers.

Artificial reefs are more than merely fish attractors. When a new hard structure is introduced into the marine environment, it does not take long for a micro ecosystem to begin developing. This occurs because artificial reefs provide a place for algae and invertebrates, such as coral, to accumulate and capture nutrients from surrounding waters and begin the process of assimilating biomass through the food chain. In a relatively short amount of time, smaller fish congregate to feed on the alga and invertebrates, and these smaller creatures soon attract larger predators, many of which are important sportfish. There are numerous examples of decommissioned vessels being successfully converted into artificial reefs, benefiting the marine environment and becoming valuable fishing destinations.

The Reusing Equipment for Environmental Fortification (REEF) Act seeks to establish a pathway to secure retired Naval vessels for use as artificial reef structures in the nation’s coastal waters. Specifically, the bill would require the Secretary of the Navy to notify Congress no later than 90 days of the retirement of a vessel from the Naval Vessel Register that is a viable candidate for reefing. The REEF Act provides an opportunity to create new, vibrant marine ecosystems and recreational fishing destinations. Not only is this welcome legislation for marine life and anglers, but also for local economies which can benefit from the spending power of anglers.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation recently joined several recreational fishing organizations on a letter of support for the REEF Act and will continue to work with Congress to see the bill enacted either through the National Defense Authorization Act or as a standalone bill.

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