Confronted with the vehement objections of anglers and the state fisheries agency over a proposed no-fishing zone, Biscayne National Park on Friday released a revised draft of its general management plan that favors keeping park waters open to most recreational fishing—but with some restrictions.
The plan, intended as a blueprint for managing people and protecting fish and coral in the 173,000-acre park over the next 15 to 20 years, has been in the works for a decade, and could go into effect in late 2014.
The latest draft—developed in consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—lays out seven alternatives, including two new proposals for park users to review and submit comments.
In place of an unpopular marine reserve proposed in three of the alternatives, “preferred alternative” 6 calls for a special recreation zone of more than 14,500 acres in the park’s offshore waters where recreational fishing would be allowed year round under a special permit. The rectangular area extends from south of Pacific Reef north to Long Reef and from Hawk Channel to the park’s eastern boundary.
Up to 500 permits, or special activity licenses, would be issued annually for an unspecified fee, and fishers would have to pass an educational course and log their catches. Other restrictions in the new zone would include a ban on harvesting grouper and lobster; a prohibition on commercial fishing except for catching bally hoo with lampara nets; no anchoring; and no spearfishing except for invasive lionfish. If those conservation measures don’t work after 10 years, then the park, in consultation with the FWC, could convert the area to a no-take marine reserve.
“This allows for a broader range of public use within the Special Recreation Zone,” park superintendent Brian Carlstrom said. “We’re still trying to protect the coral reef system while accommodating fishing use simultaneously.”
Alternative 6 includes a slow-speed zone along the park’s mainland shoreline; another along the bay side of Elliott Key; and along Caesar Creek south of Adams Key to Porgy Key. Those slow speed zones total about 3,500 acres. Two non-combustion engine zones, which restrict boats to push poles, paddles or electric trolling motors, would be established around the park’s southern keys and the West, Middle and East Featherbed banks.
The plan’s new alternative 7 is almost the same as the preferred option, but it would prohibit recreational fishing in the special recreation zone during the hot months of June through September.
Three public hearings are scheduled: Dec. 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Newman Alumni Center, University of Miami, 6200 San Amaro Dr., Coral Gables; Dec. 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Florida City Commission Chambers, 404 West Palm Drive, Florida City; and Dec. 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Holiday Inn Key Largo, 99701 Overseas Highway. Public comment will be accepted through Feb. 20.
Meanwhile, the FWC will get its first formal look at the new draft proposals at its Thursday meeting in Weston. Commissioners also will consider whether to reaffirm an agreement with the park aimed at finalizing a separate fishery management plan for park waters in mid-2014.
The draft fishery plan, proposed in 2008, is aimed at increasing the abundance and average size of fish and other marine creatures by at least 20 percent. It would limit spearfishing to breath-hold diving only; eliminate the annual two-day lobster mini-season in the park; phase out commercial fishing; establish trap-free and trawl-free zones; and modify bag and size limits and fishing seasons.
If the plan were adopted, the FWC would have to develop new park-specific fishing regulations and put them out to public hearings.