County Commission tells Biscayne National Park chief that proposed fishing limits are unacceptable

kwadlow@keynoter.comFebruary 22, 2014 

Biscayne National Park is a fishing and diving treasure.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Shrink or move a proposed limited-fishing zone in Biscayne National Park, the Monroe County Commission told the park's superintendent Wednesday in Key Largo.

The prototype Special Recreation Zone, covering about 24 square miles of Atlantic Ocean waters north of Key Largo, would ban nearly all commercial fishing and impose a quota system on recreational fishing if approved.

"Closing 40 percent of reef in Biscayne National Park is a big deal," David Ritz, director of the Ocean Reef Community Association, said to commissioners. "This is not a small experiment; it's a big experiment."

Commissioners agreed, deciding to send a resolution to the National Park Service that states the county board's opposition to Alternative 6, apparently the preferred option for Biscayne National Park's updated management plan.

Biscayne Superintendent Brian Carlstrom said the Special Recreation Zone was drafted after strong opposition an earlier proposal for a no-take marine reserve covering about 16 square miles. The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission disliked the no-take zone but indicated it would be willing to try the Special Recreation Zone concept.

"This protects more corals" and more threatened species, Carlstrom said, while balancing "preservation and ensuring access."

"We want to protect resources but we also like to address issues that constituents bring to our attention," Commissioner George Neugent said. "For the time being, we are opposed to Alternative 6 because of the effect it has on some of our constituents."

"The Special Recreation Zone is not palatable to Monroe County," Mayor Sylvia Murphy said, "and [the zone] is a big part of Alternative 6."

Public comment on the park's draft management plan closed Thursday. The National Park Service now will review comments before returning with its proposal for a final plan in several months.

The suggested recreation zone lies north of Monroe County, but closing the marine area of 4 by 6 miles to most fishing could concentrate fishing into a relatively small area between Biscayne National Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, lying near Ocean Reef on North Key Largo, critics said.

"It will push many anglers into about five square miles of water," said Russell Fisher of Ocean Reef. "That will create stress on the fish in that area far in excess of what exists today."

Fishermen moved from the special zone "are not going to stop fishing," Ritz said. "The fishing pressure will simply relocate south to the reefs in Monroe County."

As envisioned by the Park Service, the experimental Special Recreation Zone would allow fishing permits to 70 charter guides and 430 individual anglers. Park managers compare it to a quota used for hunting. Details about how the permits would be awarded are still being developed.

The zone, as proposed, would encompass the park's waters from Hawk Channel into the Atlantic, with the southern border east of Broad Creek and running to Elliot Key.

Fisher said the zone's southern border should be moved north of Caesar's Creek, opening the waters around Pacific Reef Light. The county's comment will include that specific recommendation.

Upper Keys commercial fishermen have opposed the Park Service's plan over concerns of losing fishing areas and pushing more Miami boats south. The National Parks Conservation Association opposes the Special Recreation Zone, preferring the smaller no-take reserve.

"Our major problem with this is there are no scientific claims this will work," said Caroline McLaughlin, NPCA's Biscayne specialist. "Years of science show marine reserves work."

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