Hold the Phone – It’s Another Zone!
By Doug Kelly
For over 10 years, Biscayne National Park (BNP), a 270-square-mile marine park encompassing most of Miami’s Biscayne Bay, has pursued the goal of updating its management plan with the crown jewel a 16-square-mile no-fishing zone. However, standing in the way among others was the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which oversees fisheries management in state waters. Much of BNP is within state boundaries that extend three miles on the Atlantic coast.
But that’s no longer the case. BNP, a park under the purview of the U.S. Interior Department’s National Park Service, came up with a new limited-entry zoning scheme and other fishing restrictions with staff involvement from the FWC. During a Nov. 21 meeting, the FWC commissioners voted to endorse the concept of this zone in Alternative 6 of the proposed BNP management plan, but with the proviso that any rule-making changes will still require state approval.
Deemed a Special Recreation Zone (SRZ), the proposed new zone would cover 23 square miles – over 40% larger than the zone the FWC previously declined to support. Entry would be limited to 430 recreational anglers and 70 guides annually, requiring a dual license from BNP ($25 fee) and a Special Activity License from FWC – the latter to be chosen by a blind draw of fishing licensees– to enter the zone. Other significant rules, restrictions and allowances would apply:
• Year-round hook-and-line fishing only for dual licensees
• A monthly logbook of catches provided to BNP
• Commercial fishing for ballyhoo allowed with lampara nets
• No grouper can be kept
• No lobstering
• No spearfishing except for lionfish or other designated species
• Anchoring prohibited – only mooring buoys would be available
• Adaptive management to be imposed
Numbers of divers would not be restricted, nor would divers be required to possess the dual permit. In addition, the anchoring buoy provision could allow BNP to place divers over favorable reefs and keep anglers in less fishy areas, say some critics.
As to the dubious “adaptive management” provision, all the initial regulations in the SRZ would be subject to change after reviews in years 3, 5, 8 and 10. After year 10, the SRZ could be converted to a total no-fishing zone. Commercial fishing is to be phased out. The targeted start date for the new management plan is Jan. 1, 2016.
In addition to creating the SRZ in the FWC-approved Alternative 6, other BNP changes include three no-speed zones with a 1,000-foot buffer along the entire BNP coastline as well as the bay side of Elliott Key; two zones for non-combustion engines for “protection for Florida manatees and safety for kayakers;” three of the Keys closed for “resource protection;” a “sensitive resource zone” extending 300 feet to protect wading birds; and other zones to “increase opportunities to experience natural sounds.” All of these zones add up to nearly 4,000 more acres of partial or de facto no-access limits to fishing.
At the Nov. 21 FWC meeting, commissioners Ron Bergeron and Bo Rivard expressed concerns about this new push to create a large zone in BNP. Although they and the other commissioners present voted to go forward with the concept after a presentation by a FWC staffer, Bergeron in particular reiterated the FWC’s right to preserve its fisheries management rule-making authority in state waters. In contrast, Commissioner Brian Yablonski kept reiterating that the zone would represent “only about 10 percent” of BNP, and FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley pronounced that the working group of the FWC and BNP “was now a family.”
With the FWC approving a total no-fishing zone in half of the Dry Tortugas in partnership with the NPS in 2007 and last year reapproving it, some are now concerned that the FWC – long a hold-out against usurping the state’s fisheries management authority – is loosening its resolve.
“Many anglers fear that the FWC is backing off from its previously strong position that no new no-fishing zones will be approved unless and until less radical steps are shown not to work,” said FS Founder Karl Wickstrom. “They say some FWC staffers and commissioners are caving in to anti-fishing factions because locking everyone out is easier than employing proven methods.”
FS Editor Jeff Weakley expressed concerned about blame for the poor status of the reefs off Southeast Florida being shouldered by fishermen. “Coral reefs are dying in many areas, but for reasons other than sportfishing,” he said, such as water pollution, coral diseases, and global-scale changes in ocean chemistry and weather factors. “Until the health of our reefs are remedied, grouper and snapper populations in these areas will always be challenging.”
Wickstrom agrees and adds that recreational anglers have always been strong supporters and watchdogs of the reefs and waters. “These family-level users are the first to expose problems and lead conservation efforts, not only here but also nationwide,” he said. “Let the FWC manage our state waters and let the federal agencies do the same in their jurisdictions.”
Some proponents of this limited-entry lottery system liken it to the permit procedure that FWC employs in Florida’s Wildlife Management Areas during hunting season, but others feel that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Limits on hunters are reasonable because of the safety factor with rifles and shotguns, and there’s much greater ease in keeping track of game populations than in marine settings. Plus, there’s no such thing as “shoot and release.”
Florida Sportsman will be watching developments closely and representing the interests of recreational angling and sensible conservation as this issue plays out, so look for our continued coverage and advisories. In the meantime, the anti-fishing elements will be organizing letter-writing campaigns and attending the hearings to influence decision-makers, so it’s extremely important to express your opinion as well.
Three public hearings about BNP’s General Management Plan are coming up soon:
• December 9, 6-9 p.m. – Newman Alumni Center, University of Miami, 6200 San Amaro Drive, Coral Gables, FL 33146
• December 10, 6-9 p.m. – Pioneer Museum, 826 Krome Avenue, Florida City, FL 33024
• December 11, 6-9 p.m. – Holiday Inn Key Largo, 99701 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037
The deadline for public comments is Feb. 20, 2014. Comments can be hand-delivered at the hearings or mailed to Biscayne National Park GMP, National Park Service, M. Elmer (DSC–P), PO Box 25287, Denver, CO 80225-0287. You can also comment at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/bisc.
For more information on the public meetings and comment process for Biscayne National Park, contact Michael Lewan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Public comments will also be accepted online or through the mail until February 20, 2014. Further guidance will be provided after the New Year.