Proposals for changing marine protected areas within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary have been sent back for feasibility studies.
The Ecosystem Protection Working Group of the Sanctuary Advisory Council voted Monday in Marathon to hold off until sanctuary staff looks at the proposals to assess them in terms of biology, social effects on users, enforcement ability and other criteria.
Those studies likely will take several months, and are not expected to be finished before sometime in early 2014, working group members said.
"It seems like a logical and sensible action at this time," said John Hunt, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Research manager recently asked to serve as co-chairman of the working group.
The Ecosystem Protection Working Group was formed to draft suggestions for changes to existing Sanctuary Protected Areas along the Keys reef tract, and to consider new areas or additional Ecological Reserves that cover more water.
Some areas outlined by working group members as starting points for discussion drew sharp criticism from commercial fishermen, sportfishing guides and recreational anglers.
No specific areas were reviewed Monday. Members decided to ask staff to "screen" suggested changes and remove those that unlikely to be enacted.
"Some of the ideas put out there just can't work," Hunt said. "Hopefully, staff will be able to package the rest in a way that allows the working group to have discussions about locations and other issues."
Working group member Chris Bergh of The Nature Conservancy described Monday's meeting as more restrained than other recent sessions that were dominated by concerned speakers.
A series of workshops held throughout the Keys last week "seemed to help" some concerns, Bergh said.
"People had a chance to find out where the review process stands, and what additional opportunities they'll have for more input," he said.
The Ecosystem Working Group planned to submit its findings to the full Sanctuary Advisory Council for review this summer but opposition slowed the process.
Any recommendations from the Sanctuary Advisory Council will be reviewed by federal and state staff before a preferred alternative plan goes to public hearing.
The full SAC is scheduled to meet Oct. 15 in Islamorada, but that session could be delayed by the ongoing federal government shutdown.