Sportfishing is big business in Florida. More than 3 million people fish for fun here every year, and one out of every three of those anglers comes from out-of-state or out-of-country. Florida anglers support more than 80,000 jobs and generate $8.6 billion in economic activity, while boating industry generates another $2.3 billion in retail sales and directly employs another 40,000 people.
Anglers also make major contributions toward managing our natural resources. We are often the first to identify habitat and water quality issues, and it is our dollars that fund critical conservation efforts through excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuel. In Florida alone, anglers contribute nearly $40 million a year toward conservation and restoration efforts.
As president of a family-owned tackle store in Miami that has been in business for more than 45 years, our company’s success and financial dependence rely on healthy and sustainable fisheries. Without sustainable fisheries and access to our waters, our business and the jobs it supports cannot exist. Any closure, large or small, affects sales — from hooks and line to fuel and ice.
Today, we face a new threat. Under the guise of Our Florida Reefs, a group is recommending closing up to 30 percent of our reefs to fishing. To the fishing community, the health of our reefs is part of maintaining a sustainable fishery. Many of Our Florida Reefs’ recommendations we can support, but the process is flawed.
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Our Florida Reefs proposes several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that would prohibit recreational fishing. That would essentially create no-take zones from Key Biscayne to St. Lucie Inlet (Martin County). Additionally they recommend nominating the entire area as a National Marine Sanctuary along with other restrictive actions including ceding three areas of our state waters to the federal government.
The federal government already controls over 2.5 million land and water acres in our state, much in South Florida. Compounding the issue is the fact that no members of the fishing community participated on the working group and no fishery related issues were identified during the process that would justify a need for any closures. Finally and most disturbing is that some of the participants in the group also participated in the process that created all of the closures along the California coast. They are participating in this process and advising the working group.
Environmental groups were well represented during the planning stages. By eliminating recreational fishing, boating and conservation groups like the Coastal Conservation Association, American Sportfishing Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association, they have been able to effectively remove any transparency to an already flawed process. Any process that impacts the livelihoods of over 120,000 people and $11 billion of economic activity in our State cannot be done underground.
Representatives from Our Florida Reefs just concluded public hearings along the coastal areas that would be impacted. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for official public comment during the meetings. Rather participants were directed to a cumbersome and confusing website to submit their comments. It is almost as if the site was designed to create difficulty.
Even the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which is charged by the state to manage our fish and wildlife resources, was relegated to near obscurity in the process. Had Our Florida Reefs used the open process FWC uses, all stakeholders would have been at the table to examine all of the management alternatives. We urge Our Florida Reefs to reboot and do the same thing.
If you love to fish in Florida or your business relies on those who do, I strongly urge you to visit KeepFloridaFishing.org, where you can sign a petition to oppose fishing closures proposed by Our Florida Reefs. The public comment period ends March 1, so there is no time to waste.
Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World, and we must keep it that way.
Carl Liederman is president of Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply in Miami, is on the American Sportfishing Association’s steering committee for Keep Florida Fishing.