December 11, 2015 – In the collegial spirit of a great rivalry taking place tomorrow on a football field in Philadelphia, Delaware and DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife today sank the former Army and Navy ship Shearwater onto the Del-Jersey-Land Reef as the latest fish-attracting habitat and underwater enhancement to Delaware’s acclaimed artificial reef system.Shearwater before its sinking onto the Del-Jersey-Land Reef on Dec. 11, 2015
Shearwater – commissioned in 1944 as a coastal freighter for the Army and later converted to a Navy survey support ship – went down in 120 feet of water about one-half nautical mile from the centerpiece of the Del-Jersey-Land Reef, the 568-foot ex-destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford. Shearwater, one-third Radford’s length but with a height from keel of 38 feet, ended its working life in 2012 as a menhaden boat out of Reedville, Va., where it was last converted in the early 1970s to stay afloat.
Shearwater was sunk at approximate coordinates of 38 deg. 31.200’ N Latitude and 074 deg. 30.800’W Longitude, in the square-mile area comprising the Del-Jersey-Land Reef, approximately 26 nautical miles southeast of Indian River Inlet. Also known as Delaware Reef Site 13, the Del-Jersey-Land Reef is one of numerous artificial reef sites established by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife that have become “hot spot” destinations for anglers from throughout the region. A new state record bluefish weighing 24.8 pounds was caught over the Del-Jersey-Land reef just last month.
“The artificial reef system has supported Delaware's recreational fishing industry since its inception - and has grown into a flourishing program through DNREC's dedicated efforts and strong partnerships with the private sector and federal agencies," said DNREC Secretary David Small. "The wider renown it's gained since the Radford sinking in 2011 is another great example of the Markell administration’s investment in Delaware's conservation economy paying off with wonderful outdoor recreational opportunities while significantly contributing to the state's financial health.”
“Shearwater is a great addition as reef structure,” said Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis, “spreading the wealth of fish habitat not only around the Del-Jersey-Land Reef, but further diversifying and enhancing our widespread reef system comprising a variety of reefing material. Anglers will soon find plenty of fish ‘right at home’ on Shearwater, too.”
Delaware’s artificial reef system includes more than 1,300 former New York City subway cars, tugboats, smaller commercial fishing boats, decommissioned military vehicles, and the ex-USS Arthur W. Radford, sunk four years ago and the longest ship reefed on the East Coast to date.
Before it was reefed, the 71-year-old Shearwater had undergone extensive environmental cleanup and preparation for sinking, said Jeff Tinsman, Delaware Reef Program coordinator, 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.
Shearwater was also prepared by marine contractors to give it a better chance of landing upright on the bottom of the ocean, enhancing its attraction for fish and those who fish for them alike. “These old freighters make ideal reefs because of the voids and cavities in them – they’re really the perfect sanctuary for fish,” said Reef Program Coordinator Tinsman. “But not long after this ship sinks, the fish will start to come ‘outside’ it to feed. Within a few weeks, blue mussels, sponges, barnacles and soft corals will attach themselves to the structure, and in about a year, the reef will be fully productive, for fish and fishermen alike.”
The “dead ship,” as Shearwater was called in the manifest delivered to DNREC, was towed this week to its final destination by Coleen Marine, Inc. of Norfolk, from the Chesapeake Bay over open Atlantic Ocean, and finally to offshore Delaware. Some six hours after its seacocks were opened and compartments flooded Friday, Shearwater sank at about 4 p.m. EST – welcomed 71 years after its christening in a Stockton, Calif. shipyard into another useful role, as habitat for expanding Delaware’s artificial reef system.