Saying federal officials cut locals out of a decision to create a 10,500-acre no-fishing zone and ban commercial fishing in Biscayne National Park, three South Florida Republican representatives have scheduled a rare field hearing for Aug. 3.
The hearing, which will include invitation-only witnesses, was requested by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo after the National Park Service published a long-awaited general management plan last month that creates a marine reserve on about 6 percent of the 270-square mile park. Last year, the park also adopted a fishing management plan that would ban commercial fishing park-wide in an attempt to revive collapsing fish populations.
In calling for the hearing, Utah Republican Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, complained the park service had “exercised its federal will over the concerns of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission” and excluded local anglers in making the decisions. The joint hearing with the Committee on Small Business will he held at the William F. Dickinson Community Center at 10 a.m. in Homestead.
In the works for nearly 15 years, the management plan is intended to start reversing the decline of ailing coral, dwindling fish and disappearing birds by redrawing protected boundaries around islands where wading birds roost and along mangrove shorelines. While 90 percent of the park remains unchanged with the new rules, a marine reserve for the first time would ban all but spearfishing for invasive lionfish on a part of the reef hit hardest by heavy traffic from the park’s urban neighbors. The plan has undergone numerous revisions and included two alternatives proposed by state officials. Nearly two dozen public hearings were held and over 43,000 emails and letters submitted, park officials have said.
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“It’s absolutely inaccurate to say the park service hasn’t engaged the local community,” said John Adornato, regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “They’re simply mad that they didn’t get their way. And that’s not the way to manage a resource.”
Superintendent Brian Carlstrom, who has been invited to speak at the hearing, said he looks forward to explaining the plan.
“I honestly view this as an opportunity to further discuss with Congress what we think the benefits are for the park,” he said.
In calling the hearing, Republicans say new rules will have “enormous economic value to Miami-Dade and Monroe counties,” that ignore the state’s position not to create a reserve. They say the plan also counters calls from the public to drop plans for the reserve.
Ros-Lehtinen has called the 15-year effort a “potentially flawed decision-making process” that needed further scrutiny.