The opposition to a proposal to shut out boaters and anglers from up to 30 percent of a coral reef tract drew heavy fire on both coasts of Florida on Wednesday — and it should.
Specifically, on the west coast at Wednesday’s meeting of the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association’s Tampa Bay division, members were being urged to actively voice opposition to an anti-fishing activist proposal called Our Florida Reefs (OFR). In essence, it wants to declare the area a National Marine Sanctuary and give additional oversight of Florida waters to the federal government.
At the same time, on the east coast in Coconut Creek, local and state boating and fishing leaders were presenting essential information and compelling testimony declaring the OFR process is flawed, not based on scientific evidence and unquestionably biased toward fishing closures.
At the SWFMIA meeting in St. Petersburg, John Good was explaining: “Right now, fellow industry members are presenting testimony at a meeting of the OFR Community Working Group developing recommendations for the management of the coral reef tract on the other side of our state. Let’s face it, boating and fishing are under attack from more directions than ever before and none of us can sit idly by.”
According to the advocacy group Keep Florida Fishing, the OFR’s recommendations are not based on sound scientific principles, the process is significantly flawed and heavily biased toward fishing closures. But Keep Florida Fishing represents millions of Florida residents and tourists who contribute a whopping $9.3 billion to the state’s economy and $46.5 million to conservation efforts.
In its process, OFR has ignored more than 3,000 members of the public and the Florida Legislature who have voiced objections to the recommendations for National Marine Sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the entire area, and for closing 20-30 percent of the reef tract to fishing through no-take marine protected areas. This opposition represented more than 95 percent of the input submitted. In essence, OFR is acting as if they are the community rather than representatives of the greater community.
Among those declaring the OFR process to be unacceptable was George Poveromo, producer and host of the nationally televised series “George Poveromo’s World of Saltwater Fishing” and the offshore spokesman for the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida. He noted: “We are fighting for the rights of recreational anglers to fish so that future generations can enjoy this great sport. These so-called no-fishing zones only harm our industry, one that is a vital part of Florida’s economy, without addressing the real issues affecting our coral reefs.”
His comments were echoed by Jeff Weakley, editor of Florida Sportsman Magazine, when he said: “It is difficult to understand how Our Florida Reefs can support restricting fishing access on up to 30 percent of the reef when there is no credible scientific evidence to justify that recommendation. We need to be working together to protect the Southeast Florida coral reef tract, but by ignoring public comment and the proven, science-based leadership of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, OFR does a tremendous disservice to anglers.”
Clearly, OFR has completely disregarded the sound, science-based proposals of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, an agency recognized worldwide as a leader in fisheries management. OFR lacks credible scientific evidence indicating that there are any fisheries problems that need to be addressed in the area.
Bottom line to this and all attacks on fishing and boating is that dealers should be signed up to receive updates and calls to action when they’re issued. Here are three websites every dealer nationwide need: www.KeepAmericaFishing.com; www.KeepFloridaFishing.com; and for national boating issues, www.boatingunited.com