A coalition of national boating and fishing organizations concerned with public access to Florida’s Biscayne National Park, recently addressed the development of a General Management Plan for the park and reiterated concerns about the potential to unnecessarily close large areas of the park to the public.
The coalition, comprised of the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Coastal Conservation, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, is optimistic that a positive outcome is possible based on recent and ongoing discussions between the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in an effort to resolve differences and develop joint solutions for the park’s management plan.
The National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released a joint agency statement which says, “Both agencies made progress to resolve differences and develop joint solutions. Discussions focused on the long term goals the park is trying to accomplish, as well as an analysis of possible management strategies for the proposed Marine Reserve Zone.”
In August 2011, Biscayne National Park officials released a draft management plan that proposed to close up to 20 percent of the park’s waters to fishing. The park’s preferred alternative included a 10,000-acre marine reserve, or no-fishing zone, despite recommendations from stakeholders and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that a marine reserve is overly restrictive. The coalition fully supports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s longstanding position that less-restrictive management measures should be implemented in the park.
“As representatives of America’s leading recreational fishing and boating organizations, we are highly interested in the management of Biscayne National Park, one of the country’s largest urban recreational fishing and boating areas. Biscayne National Park is a jewel in the national park system and helps support Florida’s $19 billion recreational fishing and boating economy and the associated 250,000 jobs,” the coalition stated in its letter.
This summer the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed to reengage in the General Management Plan development process. The coalition is hopeful that discussions between the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will result in a management plan that balances resource conservation with public access including adequate areas for fishing. However, the coalition is concerned that the recent statement indicates that a marine reserve zone remains in consideration as a possible management activity which would create excessive and unnecessary fishing and water access restrictions.
“The sportfishing and boating community recognizes that there are management challenges facing Biscayne National Park, but simply excluding the public from accessing this public resource is not the appropriate way to address these challenges,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO, American Sportfishing Association. “Unwarranted closures to public access will inevitably keep Americans from enjoying the great outdoors and diminish the economic benefit of sportfishing and boating to Florida’s economy.”
“The onerous fishing closures proposed by Biscayne National Park officials are the latest in a disturbing trend of the National Park Service disregarding the importance of providing access to sportsmen on our nation’s public lands and waters,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “Park officials have the opportunity to steer this GMP process for Biscayne National Park in a fair, balanced direction; we urge them not to waste this opportunity.”
“If the National Park Service’s goal is to improve the park’s fisheries and habitat, we firmly believe that there are other, less restrictive options that could effectively rebuild and sustain the park’s fisheries resources,” said Michael Kennedy, Coastal Conservation Association Florida Chair Emeritus. “The National Park Service should step back from the proposed marine reserve in the General Management Plan and continue to work with the FWC and local stakeholders to address these issues. Their proposed marine preserve is a fishery management tool which has no place in the GMP process. By slowing this process down and reviewing the variety of other tools available, we are confident that a plan can be reached that addresses the resource challenges in the park while still allowing the public to access the park’s waters.”
Angler Access to Florida’s Biscayne Bay