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New Jersey Scuba Diving

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New Jersey Scuba Diving

Del-Jersey-Land Reef - Inshore

New Jersey Reefs

The Radford is complicated. The bow is where it is marked, and the wreck originally faced southwest. The stern would have originally been close to the Gregory Poole, but I don't know where the stern is now. The mid-section of the wreck walked over to the charted location in Hurricane Irene.

Building a reef 28 miles offshore serves no one. It is a 2-3 hour drive for a typical dive boat, less for a faster fishing boat, but still a tremendous fuel cost. From the total lack of fishing and diving reports, it is clear this reef site is little used, except perhaps by a select few with money to burn. I look at the vessels below, and all I can think is 'what a shame'. They should have been sunk where people will use them, not on some pointless marine ecology experiment far out in the middle of nowhere. This site is not only impractical for fishing and diving - what construction company wants to waste fuel and time hauling material all the way out here?

Delaware's reef coordinators want to sink big ships and make a big splash. The trouble is, Delaware has no good place to do that. Delaware's coastal waters are shallow. The only deep spots within reasonable distance are in the shipping lanes, and you can't build a reef there. This reef lies in the closest open 'hole' you can find, but it is simply too far out. Delaware should live with their geography, and build reefs that the public can use, which for the most part, they do. There is no new 'science' here either - reef ecology has been well-studied, and can continue to be studied at other more practical sites. This reef is pure hubris and a waste of limited resources, both money and ships.

I applaud Delaware's artificial reef program. Artificial reef building is a great business that serves everyone ( and the fish ) when it is done right. But siting a reef out where no one will use it is not right.

DNREC Creates New Artificial Reef Off Delaware Coast;
Retired Navy Vessel Recycled As Home for Fish and Sea Life

(Dec. 10) With the sinking of the Gregory Poole, a retired 175 foot Navy vessel, DNREC created a new artificial reef off the Delaware Coast approximately 26 miles southeast of the Indian River Inlet. The reef will enhance fisheries habitat, increase marine biodiversity and productivity and provide fishing and diving opportunities for decades.

Reef construction is especially important in the Mid-Atlantic region, where the ocean bottom is usually featureless sand or mud. Recycled materials, including concrete pipe and other concrete products, ballasted tire units, subway cars and decommissioned military vehicles and vessels, have been sunk off the Delaware coast. Using these materials saves landfill space and allows them to serve in a productive capacity for hundreds of years past their originally intended use.

Monitoring studies have shown that placement of durable, stable reef materials can result in a 400-fold increase in the amount of small sea life and fish. The materials provide refuge or shelter for small fish, and they are the prey that attracts larger fish. Swift, open-ocean pelagic fish, such as tuna and mackerel, use the reef as a hunting ground to grab a quick meal.

The new reef, DelJerseyLand Inshore Site, lies equal distance from Cape May, N.J., Ocean City, Md. and Indian River Inlet, Del., and will be developed jointly by Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey as a regional effort. The site, with an area of about one square mile and a depth of 120-130 feet, was permitted in 2006, specifically for surplus Navy vessels.

The Gregory Poole can now give back to the ocean, said Jeffrey Tinsman, reef program manager with DNREC's Fisheries Section. The ship makes an ideal reef because of its voids and cavities, the perfect sanctuary for fish. Within a few weeks, blue mussels, sponges, barnacles and soft corals attach to the structure, and in about a year, the reef will be fully productive, resembling natural habitat.

Brightliner Subway Cars
Brightliner Subway Cars


Atlantic Mist - USS Ely PCE-880

Del-Jersey-Land Reef

Atlantic Mist reef

Type:
shipwreck, commercial fishing, formerly Navy patrol craft
Built:
1943
Specs:
( 185 x 33 ft ) 850 tons
Sunk:
Saturday, Jan 16, 2010
GPS:
38°31.063' -74°30.271'
Depth:
100 ft

Atlantic Mist reef
In Navy trim

The Atlantic Mist, formerly PCE-880 / USS Ely was laid down 12 August 1943 by the Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon, launched October 27 1943, commissioned USS PCE-880, 29 April 1944. Named Ely February 15, 1956. Placed in service in August 1947 as a Naval Reserve traing vessel assigned to the 9th Naval District ( Great Lakes. ) Struck from the Naval Register July 1 1970, and transferred September 3 1970 to the State of Maine, Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute, South Portland, ME and renamed R/V Aqualab II. Sold in 1972 to Kirks Marine Enterprise, Inc. of Dover, DE, and converted to a menhaden ( purse-seiner ) fishing boat. Sold in 1975 to Norman Industries, Inc. of Lafayette, LA. Renamed Atlantic Mist in 1979.

The Patrol Craft Escort was a World War II naval ship that was intended as a coastal and convoy escort. It was derived from the 180 foot Admirable-class minesweeper ( see Gregory Poole below ) as a substitute for the 173 foot PC-461-class submarine chaser that was used for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in coastal areas. At 185 feet long and 640 tons, the PCE was more than twice the displacement of the PC. It had a crew complement of 99 officers and men.

Several vessels sunk on the Del-Jersey-land Reef - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving Several vessels sunk on the Del-Jersey-land Reef.


Gregory Poole / USS Cruise AM-215

Del-Jersey-Land Reef

Gregory Poole reef
Just prior to sinking

Type:
shipwreck, minesweeper, US Navy, later converted to commercial fishing
Built:
1945
Specs:
( 184 x 33 ft ) 650 tons
Sunk:
Monday, Dec 10, 2007
GPS:
38°30.910' -74°30.597'
Depth:
120 ft

The Gregory Poole was built by the Tampa Shipbuilding Co. of Tampa, Fl. and launched March 1943 as an Admiral-class minesweeper by the Charleston Navy Yard of Charleston, S.C. Commissioned in September 1945 as the USS Cruise (AM-215), the vessel never saw action in World War II, as it was in route to Pearl Harbor when the war ended. The ship returned to Philadelphia and was decommissioned in September 1946. The vessel was sold to Beaufort Fisheries in Beaufort, N.C., renamed the Gregory Poole, and served as a menhaden harvesting ship from 1974-2005. During the 1990-91 fishing season, the Gregory Poole set a national single vessel catch record, landing almost 93 million menhaden. Beaufort Fisheries closed their business in 2005, and the ship was sold to Dominion Marine Group.

The Admirable-class was the largest and one of the most successful classes of minesweepers the United States Navy ordered during World War II. Typically, the minesweeper detected and removed naval mines before the rest of the fleet arrived, thereby ensuring safe passage for the larger ships. They were also charged with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) duties with rear-mounted depth charge racks and a forward-firing Hedgehog antisubmarine mortar. Their job was essential to the safety and success of U.S. naval operations during World War II and the Korean War. These minesweepers were also employed as patrol vessel and convoy escorts.

Gregory Poole reef

Prior to deployment to Delaware, the Gregory Poole was cleaned by Dominion Marine Group, Norfolk, Va., to remove all greases and buoyant materials that might be harmful to the marine environment. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected and approved the ship prior to transport to the reef site.

The vessel was prepared for sinking by cutting holes above the waterline and installing soft patches in these holes. After the ship arrived and anchored at the site, the soft patches were removed and pumps were used to initiate flooding of the interior spaces. Water poured into the cut holes and accelerated the sinking process. Differential global positioning system (DGPS) was used to accurately place the vessel on the site.

Gregory Poole reef
Gregory Poole reef
Some sisters in Navy trim


USS Arthur W Radford DD-968

Del-Jersey-Land Reef

USS Arthur W. Radford reef
Radford with an experimental stealth mast

Type:
shipwreck, Spruance-class destroyer, US Navy
Built:
1975, Pascagoula MS USA
Specs:
( 563 x 55 ft ) 8,040 tons
Sunk:
Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011
GPS:
38°30.850' -74°30.656' originally, now ???
Depth:
130 ft

USS Arthur W. Radford reef
Under way with a super-carrier, to give an impression of just how un-destroyer-like the "Spru-cans were - they were huge.

The USS Radford was a Spruance-class destroyer of the US Navy. The "Spru-cans" were a controversial design - huge, as big as World War II light cruisers, with very little armament showing, although they were in fact very well armed. The Spruances' mission was primarily anti-submarine fleet escort. The same basic hull was used on the Ticonderoga-class cruiser, who's mission is primarily anti-air escort. ( The difference between destroyer and cruiser in the modern navy is mission, not size. )

Radford had a long and checkered 26 year career. Talk of preserving a Spruance as a museum ship came to nothing, as these ships are too big to make a practical museum, and don't have the history and public interest of a World War Two vessel. Instead, most were used as targets in live-fire training exercises. By the late 2000's, Radford was the last Spruance left afloat, and was donated to the Delaware artificial reef program. Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland collaborated on the project.

USS Arthur W. Radford reef
Just prior to sinking

The vessel was cleaned and 'prepared' in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The picture above gives an idea of just how 'prepared' the ship was at this point - it is completely gutted. At the time of its sinking, it was the longest artificial reef in the North Atlantic Ocean, a record previously held by the Algol, but that soon changed.

USS Arthur W. Radford reef
Here you can see the joint between the steel hull and the aluminum superstructure

There is a reason destroyers are called "tin-cans" - they are built light, for speed. On the Spruances, the superstructure is aluminum, held to the steel hull with clamps. The joint is sealed with the biggest O-ring I've ever seen, which also helps control the inevitable dissimilar-metals reaction that would otherwise eat up the ship. This all worked fine as long as it was maintained by a Navy crew, but how long will it last after it is left to corrode in the sea?

USS Arthur W. Radford reef

USS Arthur W. Radford reef
Close-up of the mutilated superstructure

In the name of 'diver safety' more than half the superstructure was hacked away, including most of the exterior walls and roof, leaving the much thinner interior decks and partitions to stand on their own. The valuable aluminum was sold for scrap, I'm surprised they left any of it at all. What is left is so structurally compromised that it will fall apart in a few years, if it doesn't just fall off entirely when the clamps holding it to the hull fail. The Radford is built like a giant subway car, and I would expect it to last about as long. It was a very poor choice for a reef, and a very expensive one.

USS Arthur W. Radford reef
Stern shot showing the cavernous helicopter hangar

The sinking went off without a hitch, the vessel landing upright on the bottom as intended. But it was then subjected to two of the worst hurricanes of the last 50 years - Irene and then Sandy, which broke the hull into two, and then three pieces, scattered and separated by several hundred feet. The lightly constructed hull is going to pieces at an alarming rate.

USS Arthur W. Radford reef

Radford sank stern-first. The broad flat stern resting on the bottom, together with most of the top-weight having been removed during 'preparation', caused her to remain upright initially. The stress of hitting the bottom probably started the stern breaking off the day she was sunk. You can also see the bulbous bow, which raised the vessel off the bottom and eventually caused the front third to break off.

On the chart above, the bow is fallen over in the original location, while the main body of the wreck is reported to have moved approximately 200 feet southeast, and remains upright. The fantail has broken off before the aft turret. It was probably wrenched off by the rudders stuck in the sand when the main hull went for a walk. I have seen no report of where the stern is, except that it is apparently not to the northwest.

Part of the problem was that the ship had not been down long enough to 'bed-down' in the bottom, which would have secured it against the storm surge. That was just bad luck. But a larger part of the problem is that it really is a "tin-can" - compare to the Algol, which is 50 feet shorter, and, at 13,000 tons, 5,000 tons of steel heavier. Algol suffered no damage from the same storms, although it also had the advantage of having set into in the bottom for over 20 years.

USS Arthur W. Radford reef

Above is a drawing of an intact Spruance-class destroyer. The red arrows mark the locations of the breaks in the Radford, along with the resulting lengths of the pieces. Also noted is the removal of points of interest by the Navy, like the obsolete gun turrets and missile launchers. Of course, the Radford was never intact to begin with - the masts would be much too tall for reefing and had to be removed, and then most of the superstructure was hacked away as well. The next stage in the all-too-fast deterioration of the wreck will be for the superstructure to come off entirely, leaving basically just a blunt-ended tub. In a few years, Radford will have broken down to the point that it is indistinguishable from a big barge, and a few years after that, it will be a pile of rubble. Once again, the reason for sinking this thing was ... ?

( Actually, the Navy had to remove all that stuff. Otherwise, this being the Northeast, not the Caribbean, some jackass would have wanted a gun turret for his front lawn. )

Fife Sinkex
USS Fife is torpedoed during a US Navy 'Sinkex' sinking exercise

Fife Sinkex
The Mk48 torpedo is designed to detonate below the target and break its back ...

Fife Sinkex
... and the Fife's bow tears off, just like the Radford

Fife Sinkex
A better view of the break

USS Radford - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving Early this summer (2010) the American Marine Group (AMG) was awarded a contract to their largest and most challenging project to date. A US Navy destroyer "USS Arthur W. Radford" which is destined to become the largest ship ever to be sunk along the US Atlantic coast, as an artificial reef. These ships provide the perfect structure to promote marine growth creating ecosystems where none existed before. AMG has been sensitive to both the ecology and the economics of seeing these projects to fruition and have placed more artificial reef material on the ocean floor than any other marine contractor. I've been documenting this process since they took possession. This is an on going project that will follow this and other vessels from shipyard to sand bar and beyond.
USS Radford reefing
video courtesy of Dan Crowell, dancrowell.com

USS Radford - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving The sinking of the USS Radford
USS Radford sinking
video courtesy of Dan Crowell, dancrowell.com

So, was the reefing of the Radford a success? The project cost $945,000, and sucked the life out of three reef programs for over a year. The Radford was only briefly the biggest reef on the East Coast before it broke apart. However, it was the most expensive by far - a record that is unlikely to ever be broken. A 100 foot barge or tugboat costs $9000-$10,000 to prepare and sink. So six of them end-to-end, equivalent to one mutilated Spruance, would cost $60,000. The reef programs claim that the Radford cost them nothing. That million dollars came from somewhere, and could have been put to much better use.

One of the goals was to create the biggest, most awesome dive site on the East Coast. But as you can see, by the time she was sunk, all that remained of the Radford was a sad mutilated hulk, the Navy and the salvagers removed everything they possibly could. No other steel ship reefed in the Mid-Atlantic region has broken apart so fast. The Radford is not a picturesque dive with real points of interest like the Keith Tibbetts or the Oriskany, it is just a stripped, broken ruin, that cost a million dollars.

Radford reef
This overhead shot really shows how carved-up the ship is. After a few years of corrosion and winter storms, what's left of the superstructure will collapse like a house of cards.

Keith Tibbetts reef
Compare to the intact "Keith Tibbetts"

Another issue with the Radford is the location. The DelJerseyLand reef is roughly 28 miles offshore, and more than 30 miles from most departure points. For a light speedy fishing boat, that's not so much, but for a heavily loaded, slow dive boat, that is a long run, especially given today's fuel prices. Even the Oriskany was sunk closer than that - 22 miles out out in the Gulf of Mexico, not the stormy North Atlantic. It will take an exceedingly fine day for anyone to attempt a trip to the Radford, and we all know how many of those we get every year. Then there's the depth - 140 feet to the bottom, with the wreck collapsing fast. This million dollar baby is not going to get many visitors, at least not divers. And fishermen don't really care what they are fishing on, as long as they catch fish. Those six barges would be all the same to them, for a fraction of the cost.

Kittiwake reef
While three states' reef programs were occupied with the Radford, much more-suitable vessels were lost, like the USS Kittiwake, which went to the Cayman Islands

I don't think any of this constitutes success - a million dollars for a gutted hulk sunk in the middle of nowhere that fell apart in two years. The Radford project is a failure in every way, and it was destined to be before it was even begun. It cost way too much for way too little benefit to anyone. Of course, the fish benefit from any reef, but I can't help thinking that 100 tugboats and barges would have been better than one rapidly-decaying tin-can, for the same price. And those tugboats and barges could be sunk in much more accessible locations for people. To add to the injury - while the reef programs were mired in the Radford, much more suitable vessels got away, like the Kittiwake above. In fact, looking at the bigger picture over the last decade, I would call the Radford a disaster for the New Jersey reef program. It hijacked what little money was available in a period of tight funding and ugly politics. I won't speak for Delaware and Maryland, but New Jersey should never have gotten involved.

I can understand how everyone got swept up in this boondoggle - "Sink a destroyer! Wow, what a great idea!" Not so much, as it turns out. But once you get past the "it's huge" factor, reefing the Radford was downright stupid, the Navy should have used it for a target like all the rest of the Spru-cans. Am I against sinking big ships as reefs? Certainly not - the Algol is a huge and ongoing success. The Navy still has a number of similar vessels that could be donated as reefs. But you need the right place to do it, and the right vessel. DelJerseyLand isn't the right place for anything, and the Radford was not the right subject.

Don't get me wrong - New Jersey's artificial reef program is the best in the world, and Delaware's is nothing short of amazing - what they have done in just a few short years. But the Radford has no place in that, it was pure folly, and a mistake that should never be repeated.

USCG 123s
Seven Coast Guard cutters await scrapping in 2010 - they would have made perfect reefs. Instead, all efforts were concentrated on the Radford. When you figure in all the foregone opportunities, the Radford project was a complete disaster. Fortunately, things have since gotten back on track.

By 2016, it seems the Radford is completely forgotten - no dive or fishing reports in years.


USNS Shearwater T-AG-177

Del-Jersey-Land Reef

USNS Shearwater reef
Shearwater, with Tamaroa behind

Type:
shipwreck, freighter, purse seiner
Built:
1945, Stockton CA USA
Specs:
( 165 x 32 ft ) 560 tons
Sunk:
Dec 11, 2015
GPS:
38°31.200' -74°30.080'
Depth:
120 ft

USNS Shearwater reef
Shearwater as built, see Pauline Marie

ShearwaterUSNS Shearwater (T-AG-177) was an FS-class light freighter built by Hickinbotham Bros. Stockton CA, during the final months of World War II for the US Army as FS-411. (Design 381 coastal freighter) FS-411 was Coast Guard manned operating in the Central and Western Pacific, including Hawaii, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, during the closing days of the war. Transferred to the Navy in 1950 as AG-177.

She was placed into service by the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1969 as USNS Shearwater (T-AG-177). Shearwater began her naval service as a survey support ship with the Military Sea Transportation Service in May 1964. Operated by a Civil Service crew, she operated in the Atlantic Ocean until mid-February 1969, when she was transferred back to the U.S. Army.

The Army, having no peacetime use for such a vessel, sold it, although exact dates and details are lost. Shearwater eventually ended up with Omega Proteins, a Menhaden fishing concern which converted her to a purse-seiner out of Reedville Virginia.

The modifications for purse-seining were extensive. The entire aft structure was razed, and the probably worn-out engine was replaced with a pair of GM 149 diesels, resulting in the inelegant dual-rudder installation below. A clunky forward wheelhouse was fitted, with a new superstructure erected over the cargo holds. Surprisingly, she kept her original name throughout her life.

USNS Shearwater reef

USNS Shearwater reef
Shearwater around 2007, looking completely different

Further modifications included provision to carry two 38 foot aluminum motor skiffs at the stern to set the seine nets, a pumping station amidships to suction the fish from the nets into the cargo holds, and a refrigeration plant to keep them cold. All of this is plainly evident in the photo above. Also note the crow's nest for fish-spotting. At their former facility in Port Monmouth NJ, Omega even had a private airfield for spotter planes; the runway is now used for leaf composting.

Those poor fish didn't stand a chance. The Shearwater could take 1.5 million fish in one trip. Menhaden are one of the commonest fish out there, but operations like this, using nets over a third of a mile long, were wiping them out. This is an old story with commercial fishing - bigger vessels, better methods, and higher costs lead to over-exploitation. That is simply the natural outcome without regulation, and regulation is often the death of the fishery. Well, if the fishermen exterminate the fish, they are out of business anyway. On the flip side, it is incredibly difficult to accurately estimate fish poplulations. Fisheries scientists go on about 'best possible science' while deliberately not saying that the 'best possible science' is pretty much just guessing based on the scantiest of data. So what to do? Err on the side of the fish, they are the ones dying, fishermen can do something else. But don't expect them to be happy about it.

purse seine
Setting out a purse seine

In the case of the Shearwater, things would be a bit different - the two skiffs would do all the work, while the mothership stands by.

purse seine
purse seine
purse seine
Sequence of images showing purse nets being set out around a school of fish, closed and drawn in by a crane on the mothership, and finally vacuumed out into the mothership's holds.

Purse seining was once also used to catch tuna, resulting in their decimation. Instead of vacuuming the tuna out of the nets, they were gaffed aboard. Today, even the menhaden fishery is dying out, largely due to ever-tightening catch limits. ( Maryland banned purse seining outright in 1931. ) There are just three outposts left along the entire east coast.

Shearwater was fishing in June of 1998, when she ran aground just 100 feet off the beach. The crew left her, shutting down the refrigeration plant in the process. For a week, the Shearwater sat aground on the beach at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles south of Nags Head, NC, with its catch of 600 tons of menhaden rotting in the sun.

The owners decided to dispatch another vessel from their fleet to take off Shearwater's spoiling cargo. The Gulf Island was en route to North Carolina when she collided with another fishing vessel near the Hampton Roads Bridge/Tunnel. Following delays resulting from this incident, the Gulf Island arrived on scene and began to remove the Shearwater's cargo. On the first attempt, two feet of liquid was offloaded, but the pumps were unable to pick up cargo. A second attempt to pump off the cargo was unsuccessful because the menhaden in the fish holds had compacted and were no longer a slurry.

At high tide on the evening of June 24, using several tugs, salvors successfully refloated the Shearwater. The salvor reported that all tanks, holds, and voids were sound and that no damage was noted. Shearwater was towed to Reedville, Virginia where her cargo was removed at the fish processing plant. "The town smelled a little rancid, but we didn't get any air-pollution complaints," said Steve Jones, Omega's general manager in Reedville. "The community knew we were in a bind."

Omega Protein acquired two new vessels in 2013, and retired the well-worn Shearwater. An effort to reef the vessel in North Carolina failed for lack of funding. She was docked in Norfolk for a time alongside the Tamaroa, where the small raft of dead vessels generated some complaints about pollution and channel blockage. She was then sold to Coleen Marine Services and cleaned for reefing.

Tamaroa and Shearwater
Shearwater (right) and Tamaroa (center) rafted up with an old derrick barge in a tidal creek on Norfolk Virginia

Before it was reefed, the 71-year-old Shearwater had undergone extensive environmental cleanup and preparation for sinking, including removal of interior paneling and insulation from the ship’s superstructure, emptying all fuel tanks, sanitation equipment and lines, and hydraulic fluids. The ship's sampling protocol and the results from testing were reviewed by the US Environmental Protection Agency for PCBs and found clean. Prior inspection determined that Shearwater also met US Coast Guard standards for sinking as an artificial reef. All machinery, doors and hatches, and electrical navigation equipment also were removed from the ship in preparation for arrival at its final port of call as prime fish habitat. The sinking in 2015 did not go so well, and after six hours and a good deal of fretting, the wreck wound up on her side.

Shearwater reef
Shearwater ready to go

Shearwater reef
Holes are cut in the hull for flooding, but they are too high up. By the time they become effective, the vessel will have rolled irrecoverbly

Shearwater reef
Then heavy-duty pumps get the process started

Shearwater reef
This is not going as planned

Shearwater reef
The rainbow is nice - a "Reefing Rainbow"

Shearwater reef
Air is trapped inside the bow compartment

I've never sunk a ship myself, but it seems to me a better plan would have been to blow the bottom out of the engine room and set the stern down first, so the twin rudders will dig in and stabilize the ship as it sinks. This would also allow the front of the vessel to maintain its stability as long as possible. Once a vessel floods to a certain point, it loses all tendency to remain upright, and is very likely to flip over. Looking at all the extra superstructure that was built on the Shearwater, I'd say that outcome would be difficult to avoid.

USNS Shearwater T-AG-177 - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- USNS Shearwater T-AG-177 - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving

The Omega Men

Catching fish in rough weather is only one of the challenges facing the menhaden fleet of Reedville, Va.

By Kathy Bergren Smith

At the bitter end of Route 360 on the Northern Neck of Virginia lies the Victorian village of Reedville, population 300. Founded in 1874 by a Maine fisherman, Elijah Reed, Reedville, from its start, has been all about Atlantic menhaden.

For generations, most people in Reedville, which consistently ranks in the top three U.S. ports by landings, have been associated with the catching and processing of this inedible fish. One by one, the factories have closed and the boats have gone where old boats go.

Today there is only one menhaden processing plant in Reedville: Omega Protein. I am heading there on a summer Sunday night to meet Capt. Lee Robbins and join his boat Shearwater for a purse seining trip.

"It looks like fishing is going to be pretty good tomorrow, we have a good fish report to work from," he says as we park in the fish processing plant's yard. A smoke stack looms over a factory and several smaller buildings dot the yard. There is not the typical marina-like atmosphere around the fleet; in fact, the factory's chutes and tanks hide the boats.

We make our way to the docks where the whole fleet is tied up. Eleven boats range in length from 140 to 200 feet. Several are former Gulf of Mexico oil field service boats. Several others are converted WWII-era Army supply craft.

Each boat is configured alike: wheelhouse forward, fish holds amidships, and two 38-foot aluminum boats hang from davits above the stern. Netting is gathered in each of the small boats and draped across the cutout stern. Like the menhaden boats I watched as a child on the Jersey Shore, each mast is topped by a crow's nest and a boom secured by a cable mounted to it. The Shearwater is the fleet's second largest boat at 166' x 32' with a molded depth of 11 feet. Twin GM 149 engines power the Shearwater.

As we tour the Shearwater's deck, Robbins calls to the Great Wicomico, tied alongside. Soon, the Great Wicomico's captain, Paul Somers, a fourth generation waterman, and the boat's pilot, Jeffrey Dameron, appear at the rail. The men's genteel Tidewater accents seem to turn the clock back 100 years. Dameron's father piloted the menhaden boat Robbins' father, Meredith Robbins, skippered.

Talk inevitably turns to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's decision to place commercial catch limits on menhaden for the first time in Virginia's portion of the Chesapeake. ( Maryland banned purse seining in 1931. )

"I see it as a state's rights issue; you have all these states" - the commission has two members from each East Coast state from Maine to Florida - "that have closed their grounds to our boats, and now they are telling us that we can't fish here in Virginia?" Robbins says.

The 106,000-metric ton menhaden limit the commission set became effective July 1, 2006. It was imposed in response to mounting recreational fishing industry concern that "localized depletion" of menhaden in the bay is depriving the burgeoning striped bass population of its most important food source. ( In October, the commission was to consider Virginia's proposal to raise the cap to 109,000 metric tons. )

There is a dearth of population data for menhaden in the Chesapeake specifically. But benchmarks the commission itself set show the coastwide stock is considered healthy.

"That right there is the 'smoking gun'," Robbins says. From the fisherman's perspective, managers are bowing to political pressure from a special interest group instead of using the best available science to make a decision.

Like so many other late night discussions, at around midnight, the fishermen decide they can't solve the world's problems and they had better get some shut eye before the grueling work week begins at 4 a.m.


USCG Tamaroa

Del-Jersey-Land Reef

USCG Tamaroa reef

Type:
shipwreck, fleet tugboat, cutter
Built:
1943, Portland, OR, as USS Zuni AT-95
Specs:
( 205 x 38 ft ) 1,235 tons (light)
Sunk:
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
GPS:
38° secret' -74° secret'
Depth:
130 ft

USCG Tamaroa reef
Zuni assists the torpedoed USS Reno, 1944

Tamaroa was originally US Navy fleet tug Zuni. A fleet tug is a fully ocean-going vessel with the speed and range to go with the fleet wherever that takes it. For Zuni, that was the South Pacific, where she served in operaions in the Marianas - Saipan and Guam, the Philipines and China, Caroline Islands - Palau and Peleliu, and Iwo Jima.

USCG Tamaroa reef
As a black-hulled Coast Guard cutter, 1947

USS Zuni was transferred to the Coast Guard in 1946, becoming USCGC Tamaroa WAT-166, later WMEC-166, a Medium Endurance Cutter. She served on the East Coast until 1994, and was a central figure in the book and movie "The Perfect Storm" ( although another vessel played her in the movie. )

USCG Tamaroa reef
Tamaroa capsized in a flooded drydock, New York, 1963

Efforts in Portsmouth VA to preserve the Tamaroa as a museum ship were well under way in 2012 when a leak in the engine room sank her, causing a collapsed bulkhead as well. More leaks and were found, and the effort had to be abandoned - the old hull had deteriorated beyond any reasonable repair. It was decided to use the famous ship as an artificial reef rather than scrap it outright.

USCG Tamaroa reef
Tamaroa in 1990, around the time of "The Perfect Storm" - Halloween 1991

USCG Tamaroa reef
Tamaroa painted back to Navy colors, 2008
Note that the 3" deck gun is gone


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I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
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