Saving Biscayne National Park

Summer is just about here, and it’s brought that recurring debate over how best to preserve Biscayne National Park.

The park’s caretakers, the National Park Service, whose job is to protect the natural jewel for, and from, “we the people” — the recreational users, anglers and the commercial fishermen — is considering new rules and restrictions aimed at saving the park’s deteriorating natural resources.

Unfortunately, too many people might be asking: Where is Biscayne National Park and why should I care about it?

Anyone who has gone out on a boat on Biscayne Bay and docked at Elliott Key, or snorkeled, scuba dived or fished, has been there. After all, the park is 95 percent water. Second to the Florida Everglades, Biscayne National Park, which stretches for 270-square-miles from the waters of Stiltsville to just north of Key Largo, is one of South Florida’s most popular attractions.

But commercial fishing there could end, along with the two-day mini-lobster season that takes place in a third of the park, outside its existing lobster sanctuary. Why? The park is exhausted. The population of fish is being depleted, and the fish themselves are smaller. Reefs are being destroyed, and along with them, almost-irreplaceable natural resources and the economic bounty that they bring.

Administrators, indeed, must take drastic action. The aggressive new management plan would help the park survive and flourish. At the same time, many of the park’s users are concerned that they are being unnecessarily banned from accessing this national treasure.

The recommendations, extreme to some, clearly are the starting point from which compromise can emerge.

The road from proposal to enactment requires input and approval from the federal government and the state, via the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has to sign off on the recommendations.

To attest to the park’s popularity, half a million people from around the world launch into its beauty every year. That’s great — but it’s also the challenge, Superintendent Brian Carlstrom told the Editorial Board.

The pressure that human activity puts on the fish population, delicate coral reefs and seagrass can be devastating.

“With new rules yet to be defined through civic engagement we hope to achieve the primary goal set by the Fishery Management Plan, to improve the park's fishery by 20%,” Mr. Carlstrom said.

Fishing lobbying groups are opposed to such steps. They say that there are other measures the Park Service could take, such as a change in bag limits and gear restrictions. But are these enough to allow the park to replenish itself or are these merely timid half-steps? That has to be determined.

There must be room for compromise and balance, with fishing curtailed but not necessarily eliminated. As for the lobster mini-season, reins, too, should be applied here without wiping it out totally. Too many who take part create a destructive mini-blitz over those two days.

Though they might be a boon to the local hotels and restaurants who look forward to the business, there’s a greater cost — to the area’s natural resources — that is too high to pay.

“Yes, this is your park, but we are charged with preserving it for future generations,” Superintendent Carlstrom said. “We want your kids and your kids’ kids to enjoy it, too,”

No one should argue with that important mission.