The goal of Ecosystem-based fisheries management is to rebuild and sustain populations, species, preserve natural functions and values of marine ecosystems at high levels of productivity and biological diversity. Maintaining the quality of artificial reefs while providing additional habitats for fishes to reproduce and grow to maturity is critical in light of increasing human utilization. The effectiveness of St. Lucie County artificial reefs in providing recreational destinations includes:
- Providing additional recreational opportunities.
- Providing diverse reefs in diverse areas that will benefit as many life history stages of as many species as possible.
- Providing areas for as many ecological functions as possible.
The diverse structures used in the St. Lucie County Artificial Reef Program as well as the diverse areas and depths in which these reefs are located promotes a diverse number of habitats crating niches for a diverse assemblage of organisms, including fishes from the snapper-grouper complex, pelagic baitfish and other forage species, sharks and other pelagic predators, sea turtles, and invertebrates. To add to the ability of St. Lucie County artificial reefs to promote recreational opportunities while also benefitting propagation of other life species and life history stages, the County’s first Nearshore Hardbottom (0 -12 feet of depth) artificial reef site is being permitted off of John Brooks Beach.
Because many of the fish living on offshore artificial reefs also use the Indian River Lagoon at some point in their life history Lagoon habitats are also important to the Artificial Reef Program. The attached diagram is a reproduction of the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council's Snapper-Grouper Complex, which includes 59 fish species found on Florida's reefs and hardbottoms. Of these species, 44 species are inhabitants of St. Lucie County. Many of these species use other habitat (i.e. Indian River Lagoon, deepwater reefs and hardbottoms) to complete their life histories. Of the 44 species inhabiting St. Lucie County, 24 species in the snapper-grouper complex have already been documented using St. Lucie County's artificial reefs. Juveniles were represented in 14 of the 24 species. Other fish species including baitfish, mackerel, permit, rays, sharks, red drum, snook, sailfish, and tripletail have been documented using the County's artificial reefs.
Because inshore fish habitats are vital to the health of the offshore fisheries, the artificial Reef Program has started an oyster reef restoration program with its partners the Florida Oceanographic Society and Florida SeaGrant. All work is volunteer-driven. To date oyster reefs have been deployed on 4 of the 6 sites in the Fort Pierce Inlet Area oyster restoration program.