Public Reefing Program sites are located relatively close to Gulf access ports along the Texas coast. The program aims to establish at least one 160-acre reef site in state waters (within nine nautical miles of shore), accessible from major ports such as Galveston/Freeport, Matagorda, Corpus Christi/Port Aransas, Port Mansfield and Port Isabel. Additional reef sites may be planned in the future.
Reef sites created under the Public Reef Program are permitted to TPWD by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) and Texas General Land Office. TPWD currently holds 68 USACOE reef-building permits and is authorized to add reef materials to each site.
All of the normal constraints for permitting an artificial reef apply. A site cannot be built near safety fairways, anchorages, active oil and gas wells or pipelines or natural hard bottom (such as coral reefs). The ocean floor must be hard enough to support heavy material so that it retains its profile instead of sinking into the bottom. The U.S. Coast Guard monitors clearance above the reefed materials, which is generally 50 feet from the surface. Shallower waters along the in-state upper coast can present a special challenge for permitting. Direction from the jetties and distance from other fishing sites also factor into decisions.
Public input helps TPWD stay current on where anglers and divers would like to see reef sites established, so click here to contact us.
Each nearshore reef site is generally the shape of a square, 160 acres in size. That’s about the size of 121 football fields or Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.
The perimeter is restricted to reefing by TPWD only and serves as a buffer zone. A public partner is assigned an area within the reef site to place their materials. For reef site identification, TPWD typically marks the center point of the reef site with a 10-foot yellow spar buoy anchored with a concrete block or other device. TPWD adds larger reef materials in and among those placed by the public in order to create a diverse reef system with high- and low-profile areas.
The TPWD Artificial Reef Program holds a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for each of its reef sites. The first step in participating in the program is to contact the TPWD Artificial Reef Program to discuss a location and what materials you would like to reef. After the initial consultation, TPWD will determine whether the material fits its guidelines and may arrange for a site visit to see the materials.
The formal application process, including all forms and instructions, is detailed in The Texas Public Reef Building Program, Standard Operating Protocol and Guidelines. Any person, organization, firm or corporation wishing to participate in the program and deploy materials to be used as artificial reefs must adhere to the rules and guidelines outlined in this document and bear all costs incurred in the acquisition, building, inspection, testing and deployment of the materials.
Once an agreement has been made, TPWD and the person or organization that wants to reef its materials schedule the actual reefing. The public applicant covers all reefing activity and costs.
Recreational reefing sites are (from north to south): George Vancouver Liberty Ship, Matagorda, Lone Star, Boatman’s, Corpus Christi, Port Mansfield and Port Isabel.
The Vancouver reef site was created more than 30 years ago and includes a 440-foot WWII Liberty Ship. The reef site is 160 acres in size and located nine nautical miles from the Freeport jetties in 60 feet of water. Our permit allows reef creation with a nearly 30-foot profile. A permanent buoy, maintained by the Program, marks the site.
The Matagorda and Corpus Christi reefs were newly permitted in 2011. Each is 160 acres with no material deployed to date. Both are located in state waters, about eight nautical miles from shore, with water depths of 70 feet. A contract to deploy 400 pyramid reefs at Corpus Christi reef is underway.
Lonestar and Boatman's reefs are located near Port Aransas. They were transferred to TPWD years ago and contain some concrete culverts. The reef program may add additional materials to the sites in the future.
The Port Mansfield U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site permit allows development of a 160-acre site seven nautical miles southeast of the Port Mansfield jetties in 70 feet of water, with a 20-foot profile. To date, a tugboat and 5,000 concrete culverts have been reefed there. Fishermen have noted juvenile sailfish in the area, along with numerous red snapper.
The Port Isabel reef site, approved in 1987, is the largest reef site in the program, encompassing more than 380 acres. The site sits seven nautical miles southeast of the Port Isabel jetties in 75 feet of water, with a 45-foot profile. Material in the Isabel reef includes numerous reef balls, two sets of oilrig legs, a 60-foot tugboat, a U.S. YR (floating workshop) Navy Barge and a shrimp boat. A permanent buoy marks this site.
The Artificial Reef Program selects the sites, acquires the necessary leases and permits, works with participants as consultants to provide information about the program and best practices, maintains navigational buoys and administers the program.
Public partners who participate in the state reefing process develop a reefing plan, apply for a Public Reefing Agreement under the Public Reefing Program procedures, acquire materials to deploy, work with TPWD on materials inspection, deploy the materials according to the Public Reefing Agreement and report the deployment to the TPWD. Click here for more information on how to apply.
Public participants incur all costs associated with building and reefing their approved materials. Individuals may participate as public partners through TPWD, while others may join together in a collaborative effort to pool their resources and work as a co-op partner with TPWD. Individuals work with local communities, governments and corporations to take the lead in developing goals and promoting use of their reef sites. TPWD resources will be devoted to deploying larger materials at each reef site.
Another way the public can add value to the public reefing process is by locating and informing the TPWD Artificial Reef Program of existing materials that may be good candidates for reefing. TPWD will determine whether the materials are suitable for reefing, based on logistics (transporting and handling the materials to dock loading area) and reefing costs.
Public partners conducting the reefing provide coordinates of individually deployed material pieces to TPWD. Those coordinates are added to the database used by TPWD to manage the reef site. This provides a sense of ownership for those individuals putting their materials in specific locations. The general public has access to the coordinates for a reef’s center point and its four corners but generally not to individual pieces of material.
The reef locations of individual pieces of materials are not published to the general public. However, TPWD cannot conceal this data if it is legally requested by a member of the public (i.e., through an open records request). The logic of this decision is that there will eventually be so much material at an 160-acre site that it will be impractical to record the individual location of each piece of reef material. The public, through fishing experience, will learn where the “hot spots” are located.
There is no legal basis for TPWD to prohibit certain groups from fishing or diving at the reef sites. To help prevent user conflict, TPWD works with the commercial fishing industry to minimize impacts when creating reef sites. Commercial shrimping activities typically stay clear of these areas to protect their gear. Other commercial activities are subject to standard TPWD fishing regulations. Diving activities are possible but may be minimal due to the lack of water clarity near shore. All fishermen may use the reef sites because they are intended for fishing and diving use.
All materials placed by the public at a reef site permitted to TPWD become state property and are managed as such. That way TPWD holds the reef permits and is responsible for any legal liability incurred by these structures.
There may be a tax benefit for qualified contributions to the program. The State of Texas is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a not-for-profit entity and routinely documents donations to the program for tax benefits. The value of services and materials donated may qualify for a tax deduction, but this determination should be left to your professional accountant. TPWD does not give tax advice. The contribution/value form (Form PWD1132C) is on page 17 in The Texas Public Reef Building Program, Standard Operating Protocol and Guidelines (PDF, 428KB).