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Hitting the Jackpot or Fishing under Feds’ Proposed Plan

CourtneyCourtney Posts: 3 Greenhorn
By David Ritz
Ocean Reef Community Association

Florida’s unique geography, abundance of fresh and saltwater habitats, climate and tourism opportunities make it the No. 1 destination for anglers and the Fishing Capital of the World. Of its more than 2 million saltwater fishermen, more than half reside in the state. Hundreds of thousands travel from other states and countries to fish in Florida’s pristine waters. The federal government, however, wants to limit some of Florida’s premiere reef fishing through a lottery style permit program. The problem? Similar to your chances of winning the Florida Lotto, getting your hands on the permit may be slim.

Biscayne National Park, located off Florida’s southeast coast near Miami and the Florida Keys, is a popular area for many saltwater anglers. The 270-square-mile, marine park boasts a half million visitors each year. While state law largely governs fishing in the park, the National Park Service manages it.

Late last year, the federal agency proposed a supplemental draft to its General Management Plan, which guides park operations. The draft included two solutions to address reef and fish conservation concerns. The park service’s preferred solution, Alternative #6, strikes through the heart of what makes Florida a premiere destination for fishing.

What does Alternative #6 propose?
Alternative #6 proposes creating a Special Recreation Zone, 2/3 the size of Manhattan Island, where fishing is limited to no more than 500 special permits (430 private anglers and 70 guides). The park service proposes issuing the permits through a lottery system. One problem with proposal is the math.

500 permits ÷ 500,000 visitors = 1 permit per 1,000 visitors

Those who hit the jackpot and obtain a permit likely will be ecstatic until they see the list of everything you must comply with in the zone – no grouper harvest, no lobstering, no spearfishing, no commercial fishing except for permitted lampara nets, and hook and line fishing only (with a few exceptions). It would be like discovering a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and when you open the lid, you find a box of Lucky Charms.

In addition to unreasonable access to reef fishing, Alternative #6 falls short in other ways. For one, limiting fishing in the park will create excessive fishing pressures on other waters in the vicinity. The National Marine Sanctuary nearby already has a Special Preservation Area closed to fishing. Limiting fishing in the proposed Special Recreation Zone would put additional pressure on the small area in between the two areas, which seems to be incompatible with the park service’s goals.

Also, Alternative #6 places additional burdens on anglers and the government by requiring expensive mooring buoys, more emphasis from law enforcement and monthly logbooks with details such as the numbers of trips taken, people fishing and fish caught and harvested. Local businesses also have concerns about the economic affects likely to occur if the park service implements the proposal.

Another concern is the lack of scientific evidence or precedent to support the park service’s strategy. Coral reefs are dying in many areas, and water temperature, coral diseases and global scale changes in ocean chemistry and weather are contributing causes. There is doubt that limiting fishing in the area will remedy any problems Alternative #6 is trying to address, and the plan to use indicators based on one species of fish (snapper) to manage the entire ecosystem is shortsighted.

We all want to protect the park, but we think the proposed Special Recreation Zone will have the opposite effect of what the park service is trying to achieve. A smaller zone further away from the already closed areas of the National Marine Sanctuary would go a long way to protecting the Park and the surrounding areas.

There are a lot of great ideas in Alternative #6, however the Special Recreation Zone, as configured, is not one of them. Thank you to Florida Sportsman Magazine in supporting our efforts in working with the park service to adopt a management plan that promotes conservation goals and reasonable access and enjoyment of the park’s natural resources.

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