Proposed ban on reef fishing faces opposition

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A Florida environmental group is recommending the state close up to 30 percent of its reef tract to fishing, a suggestion that angling advocates and industry members are protesting.

The group, called Our Florida Reefs, met in Coconut Creek April 6-7 to discuss its recommendations, which include nominating the entire area as a National Marine Sanctuary — effectively turning the waters over to federal management.

Gary Jennings, manager of Keep Florida Fishing, attended the meeting and gave testimony against the recommendations.

“Despite an outpouring of opposition by more than 3,000 Florida anglers and no credible scientific proof that recreational fishing is causing problems for the reef habitat, it was extremely disappointing to learn that OFR has decided to proceed with the Recommended Management Actions,” Jennings said in a recap of the meeting.

Efforts that threaten access to Florida waters also threaten healthy fisheries and their management, Bill Lindsey, Star brite vice president of marketing and president of the Broward County Chapter of the Florida Coastal Conservation Association, wrote in a Sun Sentinel newspaper op-ed.

“I support measures that ensure healthy and abundant fisheries for years to come,” Lindsey wrote. “Fortunately, Florida has a state agency that knows how to manage fisheries effectively in our state waters. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does outstanding work by balancing recreational access to fisheries with sustainable practices.”

In March, Jennings and Kellie Ralston, the American Sportfish Association’s Florida fisheries policy director, attended a meeting of Our Florida Reefs. OFR is composed of local reef users, scientists, community representatives, and local, state and federal agencies, and focuses on developing long-term recommendations to preserve southeast Florida’s reefs.

At the meeting, Jennings and Ralston presented a petition with 2,192 signatures from Florida anglers who oppose a fishing closure proposed by the OFR for the offshore reefs in the four-county region from north of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County to St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County.

“We feel that closures should only be used as a last resort, by qualified fisheries managers, using good fishing science,” Jennings recently told Trade Only. “Our fisheries management agency, the FWC, has stated it’s not necessary.”