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Bill restricting Florida fishing closures clears Senate panel

A bill that recreational fishing and boating groups said would prevent unnecessary fishing closures in Biscayne National Park in Florida and amend the Billfish Conservation Act cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.

A coalition of groups supported the Senate Commerce Committee’s approval of S. 3099, The Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016.

The bill, championed by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., addresses two of the fishing and boating community’s top priorities with provisions to prevent certain fishing closures in Biscayne National Park and to further ensure the conservation of billfish populations.

The bill also would amend the Billfish Conservation Act “in an effort to adhere to congressional intent,” the coalition said. The bill would maintain a prohibition on the sale of marlin, sailfish and spearfish while ensuring that the exemption for traditional fisheries does not create new markets for vulnerable species.

“Recreational fishing is a tremendous economic driver in the U.S., supporting 828,000 jobs,” Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, said in a statement.

“Senators Nelson and Rubio deserve tremendous credit for their leadership in tackling issues of importance to the recreational fishing community, not only in Florida but throughout the country. We are extremely pleased with the action today by the Senate Commerce Committee to advance this important legislation.”

A proposal to implement a 10,500-acre marine reserve in Biscayne National Park was finalized in 2015 despite strong opposition from the fishing and boating community and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

  1. 3099 would put in place several requirements the National Park Service would need to meet before implementing any fishing restrictions in Biscayne National Park, including basing the decision on sound fisheries management; prioritizing the state’s science; and ensuring it is the least restrictive measure necessary.

“After attempting to work in good faith with the National Park Service for many years to find a more reasonable path forward, it’s clear that congressional action is needed to prevent this unwarranted marine reserve from going into effect,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“Any decision as drastic as closing public waters must be based on sound science, with efforts made to minimize negative impacts to stakeholders. Thankfully, this bill will ensure a more fair and science-based process is followed.”

The Biscayne National Park marine reserve has been an issue of concern for numerous members of Congress.

The House of Representatives, led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and 36 other sponsors, passed a bill to require the National Park Service and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state waters to recreational or commercial fishing.

Similar legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Rubio, was recently included in a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, of which Cassidy is the chairman.

Amending the Billfish Conservation Act also was supported by the coalition.

“The Billfish Conservation Act is one of the most significant legislative achievements for marine fisheries conservation in recent years, and we are thankful for the continued diligence of Senators Nelson and Rubio on this important issue,” said Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association. “We are proud to support S. 3099 as a very positive bill for fisheries conservation and angler access.”

“A thoughtful, inclusive process that conserves our resources while providing enhanced fishing and recreation opportunities is the best approach to managing our public marine resources,” said Patrick Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association.

“We are grateful to Senators Nelson and Rubio for championing this bill and ensuring that the public continues to have a voice in the management of our marine resources.”



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