On July 7, the Coastal Conservation Association-Maryland Chapter received 60 reef balls constructed by union apprentices in Gloucester City, New Jersey. The reef balls will be placed in the Chesapeake Bay to enhance critical fisheries habitat.
Apprentices pursuing careers in a variety of skilled union trades are a potent source of volunteer labor in conservation, public access and outreach projects organized by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA) Work Boots on the Ground program.
Launched in 2010, the program has completed 244 projects in 30 states plus DC. The value of volunteer labor donated through WBG exceeds $1.6 million, while outreach events have engaged more than 13,000 participants.
Union apprentices—who spend the workweek on the job earning a living while advancing their careers and trade skills—play a vital role in these efforts.
From early January through early March, a crew of 12 to 20 apprentice plasterers and concrete finishers from the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA) Local 592 training center met on Saturdays to set molds and pour concrete to construct habitat structures called reef balls.
“As an instructor, I like the project because it not only helps instill a strong work ethic, it gives the apprentices an opportunity to give back to the community,” said OPCMIA Local 592 training coordinator Anthony Ditri. “A lot of them are outdoors enthusiasts as well and take great interest in learning more about how the bay’s ecosystem works.”
OPCMIA President Daniel E. Stepano echoed that sentiment. “The OPCMIA partnered with the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance to provide our members with an outlet to connect with their union brothers and sisters through a shared passion for the outdoors and to use their trade skills to benefit conservation,” he said. “We are very proud of Local 592 for applying apprenticeship training to a local conservation need to benefit local fisheries and anglers.”
Though the training center closed in March due to COVID-19, Ditri said, once things open back up, the apprentices will continue constructing reef balls until the CCA-MD reaches its goal of 1,500 over the next three years for its Living Reef Action Campaign.
“Some of the structures are used to stabilize shorelines threatened by erosion, but many of them are used in building artificial reefs in the bay itself,” said CCA-MD Executive Director David Sikorski. “Marine creatures such as oysters, anemones and barnacles inhabit the reefs. Through natural feeding processes, they filter algae and other harmful suspended solids from the water. Crustaceans and forage fish also flourish in the artificial reef ecosystem, providing a healthy food chain that supports striped bass and other popular gamefish.”
“The Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland is thrilled with our partnership with the USA and the Plasterers and Cement Masons,” said CCA-MD Chair Kevin O’Donovan. “The cement reef balls built by the Local 592 apprentices will serve as important habitat for oysters and fish and will contribute to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay as well as enhance sportfishing opportunities.”