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Environmental issues have big impact on boaters

At opposite ends of the country, in Nevada and Florida, meetings and hearings are slated to get under way today to examine everything from zebra mussels to sea cow protections and their impacts on recreational boating.

In Las Vegas, the American Boat and Yacht Council has organized the Aquatic Invasive Species Summit to engage major stakeholders in an in-depth dialogue surrounding prevention, inspection and decontamination of boats. If it sounds ominous, it is.

In recent years, the summit has become a significant issue for water resource managers throughout the country. It’s already resulted in some local communities passing ordinances requiring boaters to “decontaminate” bilges and live wells before being allowed to launch into some lakes.

In Minnesota last week, Minnesota conservation leaders held the first summit that included scientists, boaters, marina owners, tourism leaders and others concerned about growing zebra mussels and other invasive species. The meeting is expected to become annual and it follows the state’s initiative to funnel money - $4.5 million last year, $10 million this year - to county government programs for invasive species prevention.

There’s no mystery in this. If our industry isn’t actively working with water resource managers, the summit does represent a genuine storm cloud over the future of boating. For example, boaters could be restricted from moving their trailerable boats from one lake to another. How about boaters waiting in lines and paying to have their boats decontaminated? Or lawmakers getting involved with legislation restricting water access?

The National Marine Manufacturers Association has strongly encouraged its members, especially boat, engine and trailer manufacturers, to participate in the Las Vegas summit.

In putting together the summit, the ABYC is responding to state and federal water resource managers looking to our industry for help in finding solutions. It is looking at possibilities in future boat, engine and trailer designs that could help thwart invasive species and support an environment where boaters can continue to easily access our waterways.

Meanwhile, the management of manatees (often called sea cows) takes center stage tonight and Wednesday in Pinellas County (St, Petersburg-Clearwater), Florida’s largest county for registered boats.

Members of the Tampa Bay Committee of the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association and other boating groups will converge on Treasure Island City Hall to testify about the Florida Wildlife & Conservation Commission’s proposed manatee management plan that calls for slow-speed boating restrictions on large segments of the county’s waterways.

Manatees are designated “endangered” and have been a lightning-rod issue in Florida for decades.

However, manatees no longer meet the “endangered” criteria having “recovered” well. It’s estimated there are as many as 8,000 roaming Florida waterways today resulting in the need to properly downgrade the manatee to “threatened” status.

Boating restrictions in the name of manatee protection are common in many parts of Florida. But the FWC’s plan for Pinellas County, now in the final rulemaking stage, fails to adequately balance human endeavor with manatee protection. While boating supporters, testifying at earlier meetings, were successful in getting many miles of the West Coast Intracoastal Waterway channel removed from the FWC’s original proposal, there remain several restricted areas marine interests see as unnecessary and could, in fact, create boating safety problems.

Finally, boaters, marine businesses and waterfront property owners in Pinellas County are hoping that a balanced manatee management plan can finally result from these hearings and that will lead to an elimination of the current moratorium on dock and boating access expansion.

There’s a lot at stake for boating’s future in both the Vegas and Florida initiatives.

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