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Sportfishing group establishes a beachhead in Florida

When proposals surface that can erode access to America’s waters for recreational boating and fishing, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and fight to end the erosion. Such is the strategy of the American Sportfishing Association.

The heightened line of attack was first announced by ASA at last February’s Miami International Boat Show. Dubbed the “Keep Florida Fishing” program, it went into battle earlier this month when ASA declared Florida a beachhead to take on a request being made to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare Florida state waters off the four southeast counties part of a national marine sanctuary. Simply, for boaters and anglers, such a proposal could set the stage for eventual no-take/no-fishing regulations.

The scene was the June 12 meeting of the Coastal Oceans Task Force, made up of leadership from Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Also attending were stakeholders from non-governmental organizations, conservation groups, recreational fishing, diving and academics. The purpose of the task force meeting was to vote on whether to request NOAA make the vast ocean area a national marine sanctuary.

“Keep Florida Fishing” was led by Gary Jennings, recently hired by ASA to manage the program. In addressing the task force meeting, Jennings drove home the importance of recreational fishing in Florida, emphasizing the big economic impact of the over 3 million people fishing in the state that supports $8.6 billion in economic activity and more than 80,000 jobs.

Recreational anglers also directly contribute $30 million annually to the management and conservation of Florida’s fisheries and aquatic habitat through license fees and another $11 million annually in boating and fishing excise taxes.

Not stopping there, Jennings cited the outstanding job the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has done with fisheries management. In stark contrast, he cited examples of how the federal government has evidenced anti-recreational fishing policies, such as:

A red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico of just 10 days for recreational anglers and a closed South Atlantic fishery in spite of rebuilt stocks
The Biscayne National Park closure of more than 10,000 acres of reef area to fishing families
The fishing closures in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

In the end, the vote came down 8-6 to defeat the request and have the language removed that would have asked NOAA to make the southeast portion of Florida a marine sanctuary.

Kudos to “Keep Florida Fishing” on a very important win!

And here’s one more thought: As boaters and fishermen, we generally measure our words. We don’t hyperventilate. We’re not prone to hyperbole, so we don’t cry that the sky is falling, unlike those who would claim to be environmentalists when, in fact, they’re anti-fishing and boating.

Truth is, it’s the nation’s recreational boaters and fishermen who are the genuine conservationists. And it’s time we become more engaged than ever before in making sure our water access isn’t eroded anymore. “Keep Florida Fishing” is a great model.

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