Panel helping to rewrite National Marine Sanctuary rules to meet to decide when to have more meetings

kwadlow@keynoter.comMarch 1, 2014 

An ecosystem working-group committee of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary reconvenes Thursday and Friday to start a four-month review process.

The 16-member Ecosystem Protection Working Group has been assigned to make recommendations on ecological reserves, sanctuary preservation areas and wildlife protection as part of the sanctuary's update to its management plan. The plan hasn't had a major revision since 1997.

The Ecosystem Protection Working Group last met in September, when a number of draft alternatives for marine protected areas sparked controversy among recreational and commercial fishing interests.

This week's open meetings at the Marathon Garden Club will be more about "sharing information and discussion" than making decisions, Deputy Sanctuary Superintendent Beth Dieveney said Friday.

As proposed, the working group will hold five meetings over the next four months to lay the groundwork for sending recommendations to the full Sanctuary Advisory Council. The recommendations could reach the full council in July, Dieveney said.

Any changes to existing no-take zones -- 18 relatively small sanctuary preservation areas and two large ecological reserves -- would be reviewed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before taking effect.

After being updated on available information, the working group on Friday is scheduled to use the Dry Tortugas as the basis for a dry-run exercise to "consider how the group can use the available data to explore options and develop recommendations."

"There could be could be some preliminary recommendations but probably no actual decisions," Dieveney said.

Both the daylong meetings at the Garden Club, mile marker 50 bayside, begin at 9 a.m. In about three weeks, the group will hold a Key Largo meeting to begin actual work on Upper Keys marine zones.

Last year, sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton said the federal and state governments would review some of the previously suggested alternatives to eliminate ones that were not considered "feasible." That study has not yet finished, Dieveney said.
After the Upper Keys meeting, individual sessions will be held to look at the Middle Keys, Lower Keys and Dry Tortugas.

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