Marine Artificial Reef Research and Development: Integrating Fisheries Management Objectives

An Introduction to Artificial Reef Research and Development

Stephen A. Bortone


The deployment of artificial reefs to improve fisheries and fishing has been occurring at least since the earliest records of human civilization (Seaman and Sprague 1991). Artificial reefs, especially as a topic of interest to the general and fishing public, environmental resource managers, and scientists, have received considerable interest since 1974 when the first international conference on artificial reefs was held (Clark et al. 1974). While there are many objectives being served by their use in the aquatic environment, the unabashed purpose of artificial reef deployment has been to explore “the potential use of artificial reefs in fishery management” (Clark et al. 1974; see Bortone [2006, 2015] for a more complete review).

It is clear from the literature that the interest in deploying artificial reefs has focused on the presumption that they function to increase the attraction (i.e., aggregation), increase the production (increase in fish biomass), or simultaneously serve in both the attraction and production of living aquatic resources in a given area (Polovina 1991; Bortone 2008). Concomitantly, with few exceptions, there has been little actual application of artificial reefs in the prescribed management of fisheries (Bortone 2011). Hence, research regarding artificial reefs continues to develop and expand to provide much needed answers aimed at resolving questions that managers continue to raise.

There have been many definitions proposed for artificial reefs over the past four decades. One can look to Wikipedia (June 2013) for a definition: “An artificial reef is a human-made underwater structure, typically built to promote marine life in areas with a generally featureless bottom, control erosion, block ship passage, or improve surfing.” The definition from Seaman and Jensen (2000:5) is a more thoughtful consideration: “An artificial reef is one or more objects of natural or human origin deployed purposefully on the seafloor to influence physical, biological, or socioeconomic processes related to living marine resources.”