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House bill seeks state approval of fishing closures

A bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would stop fishing closures from occurring.

On the heels of the recent announcement to close more than 10,000 acres of Florida’s Biscayne National Park to fishing, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would stop fishing closures from occurring.

Led by Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo and 28 other original sponsors, the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act would 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.

A coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations praised the introduction of H.R. 3310.

“Probably the most concerning aspect of the Biscayne National Park marine reserve decision is the total disregard for the fisheries management expertise of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” American Sportfishing Association ocean resource policy director Mike Leonard said in a statement.

“The states are responsible for nearly all of our nation’s saltwater fisheries management successes,” Leonard said. “This legislative safeguard will prevent the federal government from ignoring the fisheries management expertise of the states in these types of situations.”

Throughout the development of the general management plan for Biscayne National Park, through which the marine reserve is being implemented, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided detailed recommendations to improve the condition of the fisheries resources in the park.

The commission has continually expressed its position that the proposed marine reserve is overly restrictive to the public; will not be biologically effective; and that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and conserve habitat.

The recreational fishing and boating community has echoed these concerns, but the National Park Service ultimately elected to close nearly 40 percent of the park’s reef tract to fishing.

“The congressional leaders who are sponsoring this bill are to be commended for this common-sense approach to protect saltwater anglers from unwarranted access restrictions,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The Biscayne National Park marine reserve is part of a concerning trend of closing marine areas without scientific basis or an understanding of the critical role anglers play in the economy and in funding conservation.”

“Marine reserves are a tool in the fisheries management toolbox, but too often we see them promoted with questionable-at-best motivations,” said Jeff Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s government relations committee. “This bill will ensure that Florida has a say in important fisheries management decisions in Biscayne National Park, including marine reserves, and that similar issues don’t arise in other parts of the state and country.”

On Monday the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint hearing to explore the potential implications of lost access because of the Biscayne marine reserve.

The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. EST and is being held at the William F. Dickinson Community Center in Homestead, Fla.

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