The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to “downlist” the West Indian manatee from endangered to a less-serious status of threatened and the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association is calling on its members — and all boating interests — to support this action in public comments now.
The proposed reclassification is the result of a steady increase in the manatee population over many years. The best scientific and commercial information and analyses of threats and demographics all clearly indicate the manatee no longer fits the Endangered Species Act’s definition of endangered and should be reclassified as threatened. Once down to a handful, the population has steadily grown and surveys now document a record 6,300-plus manatees in Florida and more than 13,000 in the mammal’s overall range.
“The SWFMIA has always stood for responsible boating practices and stewardship of all natural resources,” SWFMIA president Hans Wilson, of Hans Wilson and Associates, said “and we continue to advocate for sound decisions, based on science, in managing the manatee. We’re convinced the downlisting is a responsible move and indicative of the success of the ESA in bringing our manatee population back to sustainable levels.”
Wilson is also president of the statewide Marine Industries Association of Florida and is urging members in all the state’s nine marine associations to weigh in during the current 90-day public comment period that ends April 7. In addition, dealers should ask their customers to comment, too.
Lest groups like the Save the Manatee Club misread the proposal, it’s important to know that downlisting the manatee just one notch is not going to change existing protections under the Endangered Species Act. For example, any of the large number of speed zones already established in Florida waters to protect these docile sea cows won’t change.
In fact, additional speed zones are still being set up even as you read this. I’m referring to a new western Pinellas County Manatee Management Plan that goes into effect this spring. It sets thousands of acres of waterways from St. Pete Beach to Tarpon Springs as new slow-speed zones.
It took several months for manatee proponents and the boating interests, represented in part by the Tampa Bay division of the SWFMIA, to develop the Pinellas County plan. This group sought a balance between manatee protection and human recreation. The boaters wanted to protect the manatee, too, while in the long term expecting more slow-speed zones won’t be necessary and there will be an easing of current restrictions on such things as dredging and dock permitting.
Sadly, while science clearly supports reclassifying the manatee to threatened, FWS officials can anticipate receiving a lot of objections orchestrated by groups that are as much anti-boating as they are pro-manatees. So it’s more important than ever that boating interests voice support.
Getting public comment is a key step in the downlisting process. Every boater and angler should participate in this process. And it’s easy. I’ll give you the easy link to comment at the bottom.
Comments don’t need to be long. But it’s important to say you are a Florida resident (if you are), a boater and angler, and that you are in favor of the FWS plan to reclassify the manatee as threatened.
Again, the deadline for the FWS to receive comments is April 7. But please don’t think “it’s a long way off so I can do it later.”