With time running out to save one of South Florida’s prime bait fishing spots, Miami businessman Rodney Barreto-- chairman of the Wildlife Foundation of Florida and past chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission—has pledged $115,000 of his own money to try to prevent its demolition.
“I’m all in,” Barreto said in a telephone interview Saturday. “I didn’t want to wake up tomorrow and realize we waited too long and missed the opportunity. This is a worthy cause. I wanted to move the issue forward.”
The $115,000 is how much local contractor Shoreline Foundation, Inc.—hired by the U.S. Coast Guard-- said it needs to leave the so-called ‘bent range’ intact. The marker—which holds bait fish such as threadfin herring, pilchards and others-- is one of four navigational aids that guide big ships into Government Cut at night slated to be torn down by Jan. 25. The towers are to be replaced by tall, thin poles that don’t have the underwater relief to attract much marine life.
Now that the recreational sailfish season is underway, keeping the ‘bent range’ is critical to the South Florida recreational fishing community-- especially since an even more productive bait spot, Bug Light located off Cape Florida, was demolished last summer. There are no plans in the works to replace Bug Light.
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Barreto and Miami maritime attorney Bruce Marx, representing recreational and charter fishermen, have been trying to convince Shoreline executives to lower the buy-out amount for leaving the ‘bent range’ alone, especially since the total cost to remove Bug Light, a larger structure, was just over $23,000. But Shoreline vice-president Barry Reed held firm, citing cost overruns and other problems with the job. The company has not yet responded to Barreto’s offer of the donation.
If Shoreline accepts, the recreational fishing group still must come up with about $75,000 more in order to complete the transfer of the ‘bent range’ from Coast Guard to Miami-Dade County jurisdiction. The county says it doesn’t have the money to maintain the defunct marker, so fundraiser Rob Ruwitch with the non-profit Capt. Bob Lewis Billfish Challenge—a Miami youth fishing tournament—is trying to get that done. The deal would require county commission approval, and time is running short to present it to the commission before the marker is torn down.