A panel reviewing offshore areas for possible changes in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary rules expects to finish its recommendations July 9 in Marathon.
The Ecosystem Protection Working Group, a committee of the sanctuary's Advisory Council, concludes its two-day meeting at the Marathon Garden Club. The 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. session is open to the public.
A final report from the working group, which has encountered opposition from both recreational and commercial fishing interests concerned about losing access to reef areas, will be forwarded to the full Advisory Council for consideration at an Aug. 19 meeting in Key Largo.
Recommendations that emerge from the full Advisory Council then undergo assessment and review by sanctuary staff, with input from other state and federal agencies.
An environmental impact statement and draft changes to the sanctuary's management plan then will return to public comment and hearings through 2015. No changes to rules or marine protected areas are expected to be in place until 2016.
The Keys sanctuary's management plan, which defines rules and protected waters, has not changed significantly since 1997, with the exception of adding no-take areas in the Dry Tortugas.