Florida fishing-boat customers under attack

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“Fishing boat sales in Florida plummet.” That’s a headline I hope never to write, but it’s a very real possibility for dealers who sell fishing boats if anti-fishing interests succeed in plans to deny us access to large areas along Florida’s coast.

In one of the largest efforts to date to ban fishing, an organization calling itself Our Florida Reefs is recommending an unprecedented ban on all fishing on nearly one-third of southeast Florida’s most popular reefs. Their intended outcome is to have the reefs designated as a National Marine Sanctuary with no-take Marine Protected Areas, along with other restrictive actions that would impede state management.

Marine Protected Areas would create no-take zones from Miami’s Key Biscayne to the St. Lucie Inlet at Stuart (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties) essentially closing 20 to 30 percent of the area to fishing. Moreover, Our Florida Reefs is recommending the entire region be designated as a Particularly Sensitive Areas and/or an Area To Be Avoided.

Gary Jennings, manager of the Keep Florida Fishing campaign reports the Our Florida Reefs group had its last meeting in June and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will be writing a final report. It will eventually be submitted to the appropriate state and federal agencies and the legislature.

“We are hopeful that we have laid the foundation to show that OFR did not take public comment into consideration,” Jennings says. Thousands of comments and emails indicated overwhelming (more than 95 percent) public opposition to banning anglers from the reefs and designating the area as a National Marine Sanctuary.

In addition, it’s clear Our Florida Reefs did not use accepted science-based methods to determine the need for Marine Protected Areas. “No-take zones” should be considered only when recreational fishing poses a clear and demonstrated threat to the sustainability of fisheries resources and only after conventional management measures (including seasons, bag and size limits) have failed. None of this is true in this case.

Moreover, Jennings also emphasizes that Our Florida Reefs did not listen to the advice from the agency that currently manages fisheries in Florida state waters, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has an outstanding record of fisheries management success.

Jennings believes the majority of the recreational fishing community was unaware that Our Florida Reefs, which advertised itself as a community planning organization, was moving into the fisheries management arena instead of focusing on coral reef health and the water-quality issues that are affecting it.

So is it too late for dealers to become engaged? No. Right now, dealers should email Gov. Rick Scott and tell him that closing 20 to 30 percent of the southeast Florida reef tract to recreational fishing and designation of the area as a National Marine Sanctuary would be unjustified and detrimental to your business and request his help to stop this solution in search of a problem.

Tell Gov. Scott there’s no question that, as both boaters and businesses, we want to protect the reefs, too. But it is well-documented that water-quality issues are the problem, not Florida families going fishing.


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