In Florida, advocacy is making boating better

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There might be no other state where boating groups are more engaged in efforts to secure the marine industry’s future than in Florida, proving once again that our industry’s marine trades associations do what individual dealers couldn’t accomplish by themselves.

Here are three examples:

• The Marine Industries Association of Central Florida recently sounded the alarm that a Manatee Management Plan was being proposed for the waters of Pinellas County by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Pinellas County (which includes Clearwater and St. Petersburg) has the largest number of registered boats in the state.

MIACF executive director David Ray arranged for industry input during two critical review sessions held this month by the Local Rule Review Committee. What FWC was proposing in the name of manatee management would have resulted in more than 70 percent of the navigable waters in the county being idle or slow-speed zones. Moreover, it even included long stretches of the Gulf Coast Intercoastal Waterway.

Boating representatives clearly recognized the FWC was failing to view their proposed new manatee zones in the context of the many already existing slow-speed zones. After all, whether it’s a slow zone for boating safety or manatee protection, the latter is accomplished.

The strong pushback from the boating representatives on the review committee resulted in elimination of more restrictions on the Intercoastal as well as maintaining large areas for skiing and water sports as well as fishing activities. Members representing boating on the review committee included: Mark LaPrade (Thunder Marine); Dave Travis (Bay Pines Marina); Doug Speeler (Speeler Companies); Bill Allbright (the Boating Public at large); Terri Skapik (Woods Consulting); and Dave Markett (Florida Fishing Guides Assn).

• Meanwhile, the National Marine Manufacturers Association has been vocal in recently concluded meetings of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Ecosystem Protection Working Group.

This group will recommend revisions or create new sanctuary management zones where boating and fishing could be limited or prohibited. NMMA manager of state government relations Michael Belitzky continued to oppose unsupported expansions of protected areas, overly-broad anchoring restrictions, unworkable “special permit” systems and unenforceable user fees.

“Responsible boaters, fishermen and businesses support well-considered, workable boating and fishing regulations that will promote environmental sustainability and protect important marine environments,” he said, “Our goal is to protect the Florida Keys as a premier boating and fishing destination.”

Thus far, the NMMA, in partnership with the American Sportfishing Association and the Florida chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association,has succeeded in protecting access for boating, fishing and other marine activities. Rule recommendations are expected this August.

• Finally, the Tampa Bay Division of the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association has been pounding out a plan for the future development of the St. Petersburg downtown waterfront.

Led by J. Jopie Helsen (Sailor’s Wharf), the group has already been recognized by the city’s administration, appeared before city council and the county commissioners and briefed various local business groups on their efforts.

The exciting proposals being fine-tuned by the association’s Tampa Bay team of more than 20 industry and stakeholder members include: building breakwaters to protect the downtown waterfront and its recreational harbors; expanding transient dockage in multiple locations including facilities for megayachts; creating areas for safe kayaking and paddlesports; redeveloping an under-used commercial port facility; expanding public access to the waterfront including fishing piers; creating a home-base for the tall ship Lynx; connecting it all with water taxis, among other ideas.

Ultimately, their waterfront plan will be rolled into a larger master plan currently being developed for the future of downtown St. Petersburg area.

If you’re not a member of your applicable national or local marine trades association, you should be. The associations’ work makes your business better and deserves your membership support.

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