State to Build Artificial Reefs in Santa Monica Bay for Sportfishing

Times Staff Writer

As part of an ambitious program to support sportfishing off the Southern California coast, the state plans to spend nearly $800,000 to build two artificial reefs in Santa Monica Bay parallel to Pacific Palisades.

One reef, which will be about 1 1/2 miles offshore, is designed to attract halibut, kelp bass, perch and lobster by offering shelter and plant-growing surfaces on 20,000 tons of rock from a Catalina Island quarry. Work is expected to begin in July and end by October, according to the Long Beach firm that won a $540,000 marine construction contract from the Department of Fish and Game.

The second reef, which will be smaller and closer to shore, is intended to generate a bed of kelp, a prime food source for fish. Kelp beds have virtually disappeared from the bay east of Malibu Point. The reef’s cost is expected to be about $240,000, and the state started seeking bids this week.

“We actually want to produce more fish,” said Ken Wilson, a state marine biologist who designed the reefs.

“We’ve taken a strong stand to try to get some of the local estuaries cleaned up, like Ballona Creek. We’ve advocated cleaning up sewage from Hyperion (the city’s treatment plant),” Wilson said. “But this is one thing where we can play a lead role. “


Fishermen Pleased

Sportfishing entrepreneurs are delighted. “We’re in great need of it,” said Mike Cody, assistant manager at Malibu Pier Sport Fishing, which operates two charter boats.

“Ten years ago, we got calico bass that averaged eight pounds. Now we’re lucky to get an average of two pounds on the fish,” Cody said. “The white sea bass used to come here to Malibu; the place was known for them. They used to average 40 pounds. Last year we had a total of four. The biggest was 20 pounds.”

The decline in fish size and numbers is attributed to pollution and to shore construction and beach erosion that add sediment to the sea, Wilson said.

John Grant, the state’s development coordinator for the reefs, said he expects some opposition because of the bay’s polluted waters. “I’m sure some will question whether we should be bringing more fish here,” he said.

But at preliminary public meetings in Redondo Beach and Santa Monica, only about 25 people showed up and all were in favor of the project, Grant said.

The reefs will be sited in the least polluted section of the bay, Grant said. “And I feel strongly that the bay is cleaning up and I feel that the reef will be there a long, long time,” he added.

Grant said he expects fish to stay near the reefs and avoid the effects of pollution elsewhere in the bay.

The state must get permits from the California Coastal Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers for each project, Grant said. The contract for the outer reef was awarded pending approval of the permits, Grant said.

About 25 artificial reefs were placed off the California coast in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wilson said. Those efforts used old ships, automobiles, streetcars, tires and even toilet bowls for construction materials.

But the reefs deteriorated in the salt water or were displaced by ocean currents.

The state has renewed its interest in artificial reefs since 1980, when Southern California Edison subsidized state research to help mitigate effects of the San Onofre nuclear energy plant, Wilson said.

Various Reef Sites

Experimental reefs of rock were built in 1984 off Marina del Rey and last year off San Diego and Oceanside. Another is planned near Santa Barbara.

The outer Santa Monica Bay reef will be the largest in the program, Wilson said.

Its 48 piles of rock will be placed over about a square mile of ocean bottom. The piles will range from five feet to more than 10 feet in height. Rock sizes will vary from one to five feet in diameter. They will be placed at 45, 60 and 75 feet below the surface.

The state hopes that studies will show how to set up a reef to lure specific species of marine life. “We’ll know, for example, that if we want scallops, we might put the reef in the middle depths and make it of medium-sized rocks,” Wilson said.

The rocky reefs ought to last “indefinitely, as long as people don’t disturb them by dragging anchors over them,” said Ralph Larison, president of Connolly-Pacific Co., which holds a contract to build the Santa Monica outer reef and the Santa Barbara reef. “Natural rock has been the most successful because it’s the most like the ocean bottom.”

The reefs ought to start attracting fish from around the bay immediately, Larison said. In several years, the population should increase with fish born and fed on the reef, he added.

But Grant of the Fish and Game Department warned: “Even if the fishery stocks were equal to the very best we’ve had, we’ll still have a shortage because Los Angeles keeps growing and there are so many more anglers out there.”