PUBLIC COMMENT SESSIONS SET FOR DECEMBER 9th, 10th & 11th
Biscayne National Park has issued a Supplemental Draft General Management Plan which includes two additional alternatives. These two new alternatives, Alternatives 6 and 7 both establish a Special Recreation Zone (SRZ) and are similar except that Alternative 6 allows access to the SRZ based upon a limited number of annual permits and Alternative 7 allows general access except it is closed to fishing during the summer months. You can find the plans by clicking here.
Alternate 6 is the Park Service’s new preferred alternative and it eliminates the large marine reserve which was universally rejected by Florida’s recreational anglers. The preferred alternative also removes the large no combustion engine zones and in their place includes slow-speed and no-wake zones.
As part of the preferred alternative a SRZ would be established in the south east portion of the Park and includes the southern portion of the reef track that runs from Hawk Channel east to the Park’s eastern boundary. The SRZ comprises approximately 14,500 acres or 8% of the parks waters.
Under Alternative 6 a recreational angler would be required to have a special permit to fish within the SRZ. The permit would be a dual state and federal permit and would be administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Only 500 of these special activity permits would be issued annually with 430 assigned to recreational anglers and 70 being assigned to licensed guides.
Within the SRZ special regulations would apply, including a prohibition on the harvest of grouper and lobster: a ban on spearfishing; no commercial fishing (other than ballyhoo) and only hook and line fishing would be allowed. Anchoring within the SRZ would be prohibited, requiring anglers and divers to use the few existing mooring buoys. The plan suggests additional buoys would be installed but, no definitive source of funding is available for those additional buoys. Unless additional mooring buoys are installed, user conflicts and de facto denial of access will occur. The SRZ will be subject to periodic adaptive management and all permit holders will be required to submit a monthly logbook identifying the number of trips taken, the number of anglers, the species and size of fish caught and harvested. Data collection by the submission of the monthly log book is a significant element of this Alternative and will affect future management decisions.
The FWC has been actively involved in the discussions with Biscayne National Park’s Management. CCA applauds the efforts of FWC which is largely responsible for the concessions obtained in the development of Alternative 6. While CCA is encouraged by this progress, further adjustments are necessary to provide for reasonable angler access.
First, Alternative 6 only offers a limited number of annual permits which would be open to anyone who applies. The plan does not require the permit to be used or forfeited nor does it allow for the issuance of short-term permits. The number of permits could be expanded by allowing a segment of them to be shared access, meaning several anglers would share an annual permit with each receiving a number of one day permits.
Shared permits would allow for more access and should include short duration access for visitors, including out of state anglers that desire to fish the Park as part of their vacation plans. The NPS must also plan and fund additional mooring buoys to avoid user conflicts. If concern is for grouper population, descending devices could be required. The Park should also consider limited access for seasonal trolling for pelagic species.
The Park also needs to address concerns of those who spearfish or fish east of the Park’s boundary and that transit through the Park’s SRZ as they return to port. Thus, direct transit through the SRZ with disallowed gear stowed should be permitted.
CCA is pleased that the new preferred alternative has eliminated the large marine reserves (no fishing zones) and offers some level of recreational angling access. We hope that these suggestions will be positively received. CCA looks forward to working with Park management and the FWC to ensure reasonable public access while addressing the resource concerns.
The National Park Service (NPS) will hold three public comment sessions. All interested parties are encouraged to attend any of three identical public meetings as follows:
December 9, 6-9 p.m. - Newman Alumni Center, University of Miami, 6200 San Amaro Drive, Coral Gables, FL 33146
December 10, 6-9 p.m. - City Hall, Commission Chambers, 404 West Palm Drive, Florida City, FL 33034
December 11, 6-9 p.m. - Holiday Inn Key Largo, 99701 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037