The San Luis Obispo County Artificial Reef (SLOCAR) consists of four separate modules of concrete rubble, tribar, and quarry stone located off the coast of Central California. The SLOCAR project was developed to (1) determine whether an artificial reef could be designed to encourage algal development which provides habitat for blue, olive, and yellowtail young-of-the-year (YOY) rockfish species, (2) assess whether YOY recruitment at the artificial reef site would compare favorably to the local natural reef habitat, and (3) determine if annual fish recruitment to the artificial reefs would continue over time. Two local natural reef sites (NRS) were selected for comparison purposes. Studies were conducted using SCUBA at SLOCAR and NRS during the months of July and August from 1986 through 1990. Algal assemblage surveys were performed to estimate percent cover of foliose red algae and densities of Pterygophora californica (palm kelp) and Nereocystis luetkeana (bull kelp) at each location. The densities of the surface-canopy forming Nereocystis were initially greater at SLOCAR than NRS. However, Nereocystis densities at SLOCAR declined over the course of the study. In addition, temporal changes in the densities of Pterygophora and percent cover foliose red algae suggested the artificial reef's algal community was comparable to the local natural reefs. Blue rockfish, yellowtail rockfish, and olive rockfish comprised 96% of all young-of-the-year (YOY) rockfish observed at SLOCAR and 95% of all YOY observed at NRS. In general, densities of YOY at the four SLOCAR modules equaled or exceeded the densities of YOY at the two NRS modules during the first 3 years of the study. Over the remaining 2 years, YOY rockfish densities were similar among all the sites. We believe the different algal compositions between SLOCAR and NRS were one of the primary factors contributing to the initial differences in YOY densities observed between the artificial and natural reef sites. The higher YOY densities at SLOCAR during the first 3 years appear to have been, in part, attributable to the higher densities of the canopy forming kelp Nereocystis. As the algal community matured and Nereocystis densities declined at SLOCAR, YOY densities became more similar to the densities observed at NRS.
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