Some fishermen aren't happy with proposed fishery plan for Biscayne National Park

kwadlow@keynoter.comMay 31, 2014 

A nurse shark glides through a coral reef at Biscayne National Park, north of Key Largo. Proposed moves to tighten fishing regulations there worry Keys fishermen.

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

A stated goal in Biscayne National Park's new fishery management plan to eventually eliminate commercial fishing inside the park could spell trouble for the Florida Keys, says a local commercial fishing leader.

"If they succeed in stopping all the fishing up there, it's going to push all those commercial guys from Miami into the Upper Keys," said Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association President Ernie Piton, a Key Largo fisherman.

"That would undermine the whole trap-reduction program that we were sold on and destroy an historic fishery up there," Piton said.

Biscayne National Park managers said the final environmental impact statement for the fishery management plan covering the 270-square-mile park north of Key Largo "aims to improve fishery resource conditions, increase abundance and size of fish commonly targeted by anglers, and provide better fishing experiences for future generations."

No new regulations have been put forth but future Biscayne rules will be guided by the new fishery plan combined with the park's updated general management plan, park fisheries biologist Vanessa McDonough said Friday.

"We'll be working with the state [Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] to determine exactly what regulatory changes are needed," McDonough said. "Biscayne is a bit more complicated because of the way the park was created, with state and federal lands involved."

Proposals in the preferred-alternative plan could end diving for lobster during mini-season in late July in Biscayne waters (lobster diving would be allowed during regular season), increase the legal size of some fish species, create a no-trawl area, and limit spearfishing to free-diving while using pole spears or slings.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) said the park needs to maintain use by South Florida residents.

"There is certainly a balance that needs to be made between protecting our ecosystem and using it," she said in a prepared statement. "Sadly this plan does not seem to lay out a reasonable compromise that meets that goal."

The fishery plan does not mention a proposed "special recreation zone," a suggested area where the number of boaters could be limited. However, a no-take area eventually could be included in the general management plan, which is still under development.

The National Parks Conservation Association endorsed the fishery plan but said a marine reserve is necessary to "to fully protect all of the spectacular underwater resources that Biscayne National Park has to offer."

The fishery plan does propose to halt the issuing of any new commercial-fishing permits in Biscayne park, and make existing permits non-transferable so commercial fishing can be phased out.

"The marine recreation industry is of high commercial importance to the local economy," says the plan. "In the case of fishing, the primary economic attribute is 'fishing,' not fish."

It later says, "The falling number of licensed vessels operating within [Miami-Dade County], and the limited and partially seasonal employment levels, [make] the commercial fishing industry within the Biscayne Bay area ... of relatively limited regional economic importance."

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