New Biscayne National Park management plan gets cold reception

A new plan for managing Biscayne National Park waters north of the Florida Keys may create a new type of marine-protected area that limits recreational fishing and bans commercial fishing.

The proposal unveiled Friday by the National Park Service angered Upper Keys commercial fishermen as too extreme, and “disappointed” the National Parks Conservation Association as inadequate.

“It’s crazy,” said Ernie Piton, president of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association. “They’re closing so many areas, where are people going to go? They’ll be on top of each other.”

The park’s new recommended plan is called Alternative 6, which proposes to establish a Special Recreation Zone covering 14,679 acres, or about 23 square miles. The zone would encompass the park’s waters from Hawk Channel into the Atlantic, with the southern border east of Old Rhodes Key and running to Elliot Key.

All commercial fishing, except using lampara nets for ballyhoo, would be banned.

Recreational fishing would be limited to special-zone permit holders, decided by lottery. Plans suggest issuing 430 permits to private anglers and 70 to sportfishing guides.

“This new concept aims to accomplish the same objectives as the original preferred alternative while allowing limited fishing opportunities,” Biscayne Superintendent Brian Carlstrom said in a prepared statement.

“Our partner agencies believe that providing some access, while prohibiting certain activities that are most damaging to the coral reef system, will enable us to simultaneously achieve our visitor experience and resource protection goals,” Carlstrom said.

Biscayne staff has been working to update its 1983 management plan for more than two years. Analysts with the National Parks Conservation Association said the group prefers an earlier proposal that would create a no-take marine reserve covering about 16 square miles.

“Without a marine reserve at Biscayne, the coral reefs will continue to deteriorate and the park will fail to achieve its management objectives, jeopardizing park resources and the visitor experience,” said Caroline McLaughlin, the group’s Biscayne specialist.

No-take areas in the Dry Tortugas have created “significant increases in the size and abundance of once-overfished species after just five years,” McLaughlin said.

Many recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen blasted the earlier Biscayne marine-reserve plan. The Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, a sport fishing advocacy group, will stake out its stand at a Saturday board meeting, board member Michael Kennedy said Tuesday.

“We are reviewing the special recreation areas and the other regulations that affect fishermen,” Kennedy said. “We have some concerns that we will address with the Park Service.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board, which strongly opposed the original no-take area as harming recreational fishing off Miami-Dade County, will get a presentation on the new plan at the FWC’s Thursday meeting in Weston.

“This application of the quota-hunt concept [for the special-use area] would be a new and novel approach to management of ecologically important marine habitats, like the portions of Florida’s reef tract” inside the park, says an FWC staff report.

At least a dozen and possibly two dozen Keys lobster trappers use waters that would close under Alternative 6, Piton said. If that area closes, many Miami fishermen almost certainly would head south to Keys waters, he said.

“This would affect so many jobs, here and in Miami,” Piton said. “I haven’t seen anything to justify it.”

Public comment on the Biscayne plan will be open through Feb. 20. Biscayne National Park’s hearings on the proposal include a Dec. 11 session in Key Largo.

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