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Keep Biscayne National Park Open to the Public

General Management Plan for Biscayne Park counterproductive to America's Great Outdoors Initiative.

Guest editorial by Mike Nussman, President and CEO of American Sportfishing Association.

Last year, the sportfishing community largely celebrated the launch of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative and its overarching mission of promoting outdoor recreation and conservation. This policy represents a significant and laudable effort by the federal government to recognize the importance of reconnecting Americans with the outdoors and the jobs and businesses that depend on recreation. Unfortunately, we are seeing disconnect in some areas between the driving principles in America's Great Outdoors and the policies that are being implemented by federal agencies.

One needs to look no further than the recently released General Management Plan (GMP) for Biscayne National Park for an example of a federal agency operating counter to the mission of America's Great Outdoors. Given its location adjacent to Miami and abundant recreational opportunities, it's no wonder that the park receives roughly 10 million angler visits a year, supporting local businesses and providing a unique opportunity for the public to enjoy the outdoors so close to a major urban area. However, all of this activity, combined with less-than-adequate enforcement of regulations, water quality problems and hurricane damage have created natural resource challenges in the park. Unfortunately, the National Park Service's solution, as proposed in the GMP, is to close a massive area of the park to all fishing activities. The proposed marine reserves cover much of the most popular and productive shallow water reefs in the park.

Marine reserves are a concept that has been promoted by park officials for several years, despite opposition from numerous stakeholders, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the park's own Fishery Management Plan working group. All of these groups recognize that there are management challenges facing the park, but excluding the public from accessing public resources is not the appropriate way to address these challenges.

The proposed marine reserves, as well as large poll-and-troll-only zones that are so large as to be de facto closures, will inevitably keep anglers off the water, out of the park and diminish the economic benefit of sportfishing and boating to the local economy; none of which is compatible with the America's Great Outdoors Initiative. We continue to raise our concerns with park service officials, the administration and state and federal legislators, but there is a pressing need to act quickly as the final management plan will likely be released in early 2012. I encourage anyone concerned with what is occurring at Biscayne National Park, and who is interested in learning how they can help stop other unwarranted attempts to restrict recreational fishing, to visit and find out how to help.

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