Biscayne National Park’s decade-long effort to develop a long-term general management plan guiding recreational and commercial fishing, diving, and boating in Miami’s watery backyard got a boost Thursday from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Commissioners, meeting in Weston, voted unanimously to continue working with park officials as they put their new preferred plan for managing park activities over the next 15-20 years out to public hearings in December. Park planners developed “preferred alternative 6” in response to the FWC’s strong objections to a proposed no-fishing zone in the park’s offshore waters. It favors keeping park waters open to fishing year-round but with some restrictions. Under the new alternative, the area originally proposed for a no-take zone would become an enlarged special recreation zone where a limited number of permits would be issued to anglers and guides, who would have to complete an education course and log their catches. The harvest of grouper would be prohibited in the special zone, and the only commercial fishing gear allowed would be lampara nets for catching bally hoo. If adopted, the plan would require the FWC to develop park-specific fishing regulations.
“This is a compromise for innovation — something the park service has never done before,” commissioner Brian Yablonski said.
Several recreational anglers voiced support for the new proposed plan, but Bill Kelly of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association and Caroline McLaughlin of the National Parks Conservation Association opposed it, albeit for different reasons.
“A noose tightening around the commercial fishing industry,” Kelly said. “This closure mentality has got to stop.”
McLaughlin was disappointed that the preferred alternative no longer includes a marine reserve.
“The National Park Service must listen to the voices of thousands of marine reserve supporters that have submitted comments and to those expected to advocate for resource protection and restoration at upcoming public meetings in December,” she said.
Meanwhile, commissioners also gave their blessing for the park to proceed with final approval of its fishery management plan — sort of a subset of the general management plan — aimed at boosting the size and numbers of fish and lobster by at least 20 percent. The fishery management plan, which could take effect as early as next year, proposes to limit spearfishing; eliminate the annual lobster mini-season in park waters; slowly phase out commercial fishing; restrict traps and trawls; and modify bag and size limits and fishing seasons for some species. It would be up to the FWC to develop those rules, holding public hearings and picking and choosing which measures to adopt.