The superintendent of Biscayne National Park is speaking out against statements from boating, fishing and conservation advocates that criticized the National Park Service for its dealings with the park.
Last week, Soundings Trade Only reported on a letter several groups wrote in response to a Miami Herald editorial that the groups said attacks "fishing lobbying groups" for their opposition to proposed fishing and boating closures in Biscayne National Park.
Groups opposed to the newspaper’s characterization include: the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association and the American Sportfishing Association.
“We categorically reject the notion that the park’s visitors are ‘loving the park to death’ or worse, that we simply don’t care about the proper management of this great American resource,” officials with the groups said in a letter.
“While the Herald laments that ‘surely there is room for compromise’ in this debate, it ignores the fact that it is the National Park Service that has completely shut the public out of this process,” the stakeholders said. “Our community welcomes meaningful debate and discussion from the Park Service, but we will not stand idly by as they circumvent years of stakeholder management discussion and threaten significant boating and fishing closures in the largest marine park in the nation.”
However, superintendent Mark Lewis, in a letter to Soundings Trade Only, said managing a national park requires a balance between use and preservation.
“At Biscayne National Park, our management goal is to protect the precious resources entrusted to our care while offering rewarding experiences for all visitors, including boaters, sightseers, anglers, snorkelers, divers, kayakers, birders, and glass-bottom boat tour passengers,” he said. “One of the tools we have proposed to accomplish that goal is a marine reserve zone, where all life is protected — something many people assume already exists in a national park.”
An area where fish are not harvested can provide wonderful recreational opportunities, he added, including snorkeling.
“The letter also fails to mention that the proposed marine reserve zone is only 7 percent of the waters of the park, leaving 93 percent of the park available for fishing,” Lewis said.
Lewis also said that recommendations of the working group were incorporated into the Fishery Management Plan, which will improve fishery resources on a parkwide basis, and that the park held numerous public meetings over several years, including three public meetings specific to the issue of marine reserves.
“We received more than 18,000 public comments,” Lewis said. “We are still reviewing those comments and using them to refine the plan, which is why we sought public comment. Our initial analysis indicates more than 90 percent of those public comments support alternatives containing a marine reserve zone. We think that constitutes listening to, not ignoring, the public.”