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Biscayne Bay plan divides anglers, feds

The National Park Service wants to protect corals in Biscayne Bay National Park by creating a 10,522-acre reserve.Angler groups are marshaling political muscle to fight a management plan that would establish a 10,522-acre marine reserve and smaller no-combustion-engine zones in Biscayne National Park — the largest marine park in the national park system.

U.S. Reps. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, David Rivera and Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami were calling for a hearing on the management plan and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is objecting to the plan based on a memorandum of understanding between the park and state that touches on marine reserves. The memorandum says: “The FWC and the park agree to seek the least restrictive management actions necessary to fully achieve mutual management goals for the fishery resources of the park and adjoining areas. Furthermore, both parties recognize the FWC’s belief that marine reserves (no-take areas) are overly restrictive and that less-restrictive management measures should be implemented during the duration of this MOU.”

“We look at this as a convergence of two of our biggest concerns for recreational boating,” said Nicole Vasilaros, the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s state relations manager, in an April 3 conference call with boating writers. One is closing water access to boaters without a “strong conservation purpose.” The other is closing more and more fishing grounds through the use of marine-protected no-fishing zones.

The park — one of the country’s largest urban recreational fishing areas — draws 10 million angler trips a year. The rationale for the marine reserve, in which there is no fishing or taking of wildlife of any kind, is to protect the park’s coral reef so that visitors can snorkel and dive on a “healthy and vibrant coral reef, full of large fish and brilliant corals,” says park superintendent Mark Lewis. The no-combustion-engine zones, encompassing 2,800 acres along the shoreline and in other shoal areas, are to protect seagrass beds from propellers.

Lewis notes that the marine reserve accounts for just 7 percent of park waters, which leaves a lot of fishing grounds for anglers. “At Biscayne National Park our management goal is to protect the precious resources entrusted to our care while offering rewarding experiences for all visitors, including boaters, sightseers, anglers, snorkelers, divers, kayakers, birders and glass-bottom boat tour passengers,” he says.

Lewis says the memorandum pointedly notes that although it is desirable to adopt the least restrictive management actions necessary, park managers were considering one or more reserves in Biscayne Bay for purposes other than fisheries management.

Citing President Obama’s Feb. 15 Great Outdoors Initiative empowering local communities to establish conservation priorities, Mike Leonard, ocean policy research director for the American Sportfishing Association, says the management plan ignores anglers’ input and, in effect, overrides local priorities. “What we’re seeing is a disconnect between what they’re saying up here [in Washington, D.C.] and what we’re seeing on the ground,” he says. Leonard says additional restrictions on dune buggy access to the beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, adopted Feb. 15, are further evidence that the Park Service continues to restrict access to users, anglers especially, he says.

Lewis says the Park Service is continuing to evaluate 18,000 public comments responding to the proposed Biscayne Bay closures.
Vasilaros says the NMMA is talking with Jonathan Jarvis, the National Park Service director, about the Biscayne Bay management plan. She says the NMMA and ASA are pushing for the adoption of more traditional management approaches to accomplish the park’s purposes instead of “this big leap. … Our ultimate goal is some kind of compromise agreement.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.


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