Pair of reefs, including one off Georgetown, to be established, pending calm seas

Bob Martore, Scott Whitaker, Gary Keisler and Mike Able stand on the deck of one of two decommissioned tugboats that will soon become deep-water artificial reefs off Georgetown and Charleston.
Bob Martore, Scott Whitaker, Gary Keisler and Mike Able stand on the deck of one of two decommissioned tugboats that will soon become deep-water artificial reefs off Georgetown and Charleston. Submitted photo

Of the 42 reefs in South Carolina’s Marine Artificial Reef Program scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the Palmetto State coast, only two are in depths of over 100 feet.

Permitted Area (PA) 17, known as the Vermilion Reef and located 27.5 nautical miles east-southeast of the south jetty at Winyah Bay in a depth of 120 feet, and PA 27, located 22.5 nautical miles southeast of Charleston Harbor in 105 feet, are the two reefs over 100 feet deep.

That, however, is set to change, and soon.

A pair of decommissioned tugboats are prepped and ready to be towed offshore and placed on the bottom – a 98-foot tugboat off the coast of Georgetown and a 106-foot tugboat off Charleston. Another similar reef will be placed off the Beaufort-Hilton Head Island area but the material has yet to be secured for that project.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which manages the Marine Artificial Reef Program, and Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina teamed to put the $200,000 pair of reefs in motion along with CCA’s national marine habitat program, The Building Conservation Trust (BCT), and the Greenville Saltwater Fishing Club.

“These reefs will be some of the deepest reefs we have off the coast,” said Scott Whitaker, Executive Director of CCA SC. “We’re just waiting on weather, we’ve got to have good weather to get them out there.”

Whitaker said the 98-foot tug is sitting in Georgetown, ready to go, while the 106-footer is in Yonges Island, southwest of Charleston, both awaiting calm seas. The tugs will provide 40-45 feet of relief off the bottom.

Once the vessels are in place they provide habitat for reef species such as grouper, amberjack, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, porgy and grunts, with plenty of pelagic species such as king mackerel, cobia and dolphin roaming the vicinity.

“These tugboats will make tremendous additions to our artificial reefs, creating productive habitat for fish and anglers, as well as interesting dive sites for divers,” said Bob Martore, S.C. DNR’s Artificial Reef Coordinator. “We never would have been able to complete these projects without the assistance of CCA SC. We’re looking forward to undertaking many more reef-building projects with CCA SC and BCT in the future.”

The reefs are in a long line of habitat projects CCA SC has helped spearhead in recent years.

“With the completion of these three projects, CCA SC will have reached another milestone in our habitat initiative vision,” said Whitaker. “Eight years ago, these types of projects were simply dreams the organization had when we began our efforts with oyster habitat. Now we are looking at conducting large habitat projects as well as funding scientific finfish research and the monitoring of habitat to help scientists, managers, and anglers improve both abundance and access in our fisheries for the enjoyment of the general public.”

Red Drum Bill

Senate bill S. 933, which has designs on reducing South Carolina’s red drum limits, passed the full Senate Fish, Game and Forestry committee on Wednesday.

Next up is the Senate floor.

“It will be presented to the Senate in the next few weeks,” said Whitaker. “It’s moving along handsomely.”

If it passes the Senate, the bill would head for the House.

If approved, the bill would:

▪ Reduce the daily bag limit for red drum from three per person to two person.

▪ Institute a boat limit of six red drum per day. South Carolina has never had a boat limit on red drum.

The current size slot limit of 15 to 23 inches for red drum would remain the same.

Stayed tuned for the redfish bill’s journey through the S.C. Legislature.

Gregg Holshouser: wholshouser@sc.rr.com