Important South Florida bait fishing spot could get reprieve

It looks like sailfish tournament teams and other offshore anglers will have at least a few more months to catch bait at the so-called “bent range” — one of four navigational markers outside Government Cut slated for demolition as part of the PortMiami deep-dredging project.

During a teleconference Monday, Lee Hefty — who heads the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) — said the Coast Guard has agreed to delay removal of the bent range until January. The bent range had been scheduled to come out last week, but a feverish lobbying campaign by Miami maritime attorney Bruce Marx, former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chairman Rodney Barreto, and local anglers and captains succeeded in scoring a delay while they seek ways to keep it in place.

South Florida’s sailfish season typically kicks off in November and lasts through April. Captains and anglers depend upon the range marker’s underwater platform to draw threadfin herring, pilchards and other bait fish vital to offshore fishing. The structure has become especially important since last summer’s demolition of Bug Light — a defunct navigational marker off Cape Florida where fishermen traveled from as far away as Palm Beach and Islamorada to catch bait.

Monday’s teleconference centered on the feasibility of the county’s taking ownership of the bent range, with the nonprofit Capt. Bob Lewis Billfish Challenge — a Miami youth fishing tournament — assuming all inspection and maintenance costs and guaranteeing to pay for dismantling the structure if it becomes unsafe or unusable. Hefty and his colleagues discussed possible cost estimates ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 with Marx, tournament president Jose Fonseca, and fundraiser Rob Ruwitch.

“We’re walking into this as a partner, but it needs to be revenue-neutral for us,” Hefty said.

Ruwitch said he feels “very confident” of securing private donors.

“Less than $75,000 we can raise with little or no effort,” Ruwitch said.

The parties agreed to hold another teleconference to discuss hard numbers and to draw up a memorandum of understanding. The deal would require county commission approval.

Anglers became alarmed last week when they saw a work boat at the bent range. But Marx said not to worry, that the Coast Guard is removing portions of the structure’s top and is expected to configure its lights before the planned turnover to DERM.

Fonseca said his group is all in to try to keep the popular bait spot intact.

“Since we want the kids to have the opportunity to catch fish and catch bait, these things are really important,” Fonseca said.