A crane removes a section of the old Tappan Zee...

A crane removes a section of the old Tappan Zee Bridge near Westchester landing on Nov. 11, 2017. Segments are being used to build undersea reefs and to rebuild other roadways. Credit: New York State Thruway Authority

In what will be the largest expansion ever of New York State’s artificial reef system, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that more than 43,000 cubic yards of clean, recycled Tappan Zee Bridge material, 5,900 cubic yards of jetty rock, 338 cubic yards of steel pipe, and more than 30 old vessels will be spread across marine reef sites in the waters surrounding Long Island. All of the reef materials have been cleaned of contaminants.

All told, six sites will be expanded: Shinnecock, Moriches, Fire Island, Hempstead and Rockaway reefs on the South Shore, plus Smithtown Reef in Long Island Sound. Fire Island Reef will get the biggest drop with 10 barges of bridge material, 11 canal vessels, a barge of steel pipe, plus four barges of jetty rock by June 28. Hempstead Reef will see a dozen barges of bridge material and 11 canal vessels deployed through August. The remaining reefs will get lesser though significant boosts.

According to the DEC, construction of New York’s first artificial reef dates to 1949.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Capt. John Capuano of the Hampton Bays open boat Shinnecock Star. “The effort to get the Tappan Zee rubble down here has taken several years, so this is a beautiful thing. In Shinnecock, we’re getting a barge-load of pipe and two canal vessels by May 2. That new structure will hold fish almost immediately. I’ll be fishing it come June.”

Capt. Ken Higgins of the open boat Captree Pride was also pleased with the announcement, although he wished the materials could be dropped a little deeper. “The past few years have seen most of our bottom fish slide by in 90-foot depths rather than 60 feet where the new materials will be placed, but it’s still a great start.”

Higgins says material placement is important. “I hope the DEC places the materials along the outer edges of Fire Island Reef,” he said. “It will be better to expand the reef than to pile new stuff on top.”

Capt. Mike Barnett of the Freeport charter boat Codfather also praised the announcement. Like Higgins, he hoped the reef would be expanded, not covered. “Hempstead Reef has plenty of productive spots already so adding more will be great,” he said. “Every bit of new habitat helps.”

On the North Shore, Capt. Bob Simon of Stony Brook Charters was excited about expanding the Smithtown Bay Reef. “This is terrific,” he explained, “Our reef is just a mile offshore in an area somewhat buffered from the wind. That means anyone with a small boat can get there. Creating new hiding and feeding spots for the fish should spread the action over a broader area and improve catches over time.”

No one will deny it has been a contentious year in terms of fishery management in New York’s marine district. Serious concerns over black sea bass and fluke regulations continue to be a thorn in the side of fisheries managers, the for-hire industry and recreational anglers. Still, most believe the resumption of reef building is significant for the long-term health of Long Island’s fishing prospects. At the very least, it’s a big step in the right direction.

Email: outdoortom @optonline.net