Southern Florida’s Shrinking Great Outdoors
In an unfortunate over-simplification of a complicated issue, the Miami Herald recently chose to attack what it calls “fishing lobbying groups” for their opposition to proposed fishing and boating closures in Biscayne National Park. The groups that the newspaper incorrectly portrays as supporting the “do-nothing” alternative for the park’s management include the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, the American Sportfishing Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association – groups that have done a significant amount of work to conserve Florida’s amazing marine resources and create a dynamic economic engine for the state. We categorically reject the notion that the Park’s visitors are “loving the Park to death” or worse, that we simply don’t care about the proper management of this great American resource.
Details are short in the editorial, and the Herald is quick to cast an unflattering light on the groups that it says “…are pressing only for the do-nothing alternative, attacking the science — the usual tactic when a particular interest confronts a proposed regulation — behind the management plan.” The Herald vaguely references the work of the Biscayne National Park Fisheries Management Plan Working Group, which, after extensive stakeholder meetings that the National Park Service coordinated several years ago, produced options widely supported by the commercial and recreational fishers, divers, scientists and representatives of environmental groups. Because it is the most draconian tool available, the group recommended against marine reserves and opted to suggest other steps to help return the Park’s ecology to a higher standard. The group chose to recommend methods that had already been used by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission very successfully in their efforts to help bring back species such as snook, redfish, and sailfish to their current sustainable levels. These recommendations included more restrictive fishing regulations for certain species, species-specific spawning closures and a mechanism to pay for improved enforcement and education of park rules and regulations. Far from “doing-nothing,” representatives of our groups engaged extensively in the process that was portrayed as the appropriate channel for input and reached consensus on thoughtful and reasonable management tools.
When the Park Service summarily ignored the options developed by the stakeholder working group, it severed trust with the fishing and boating community, and invited a more vigorous debate. In the interest of pursuing transparency, South Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera are seeking a congressional hearing into what appears to be an autocratic display of power by the Park Service and concerns raised from an outcry of their own south Florida constituents—the very people whose access and enjoyment is threatened by the Park’s actions. The Herald admonishes these elected officials not to “bully the National Park Service into capitulation.” These elected officials rather, are attempting to shed light on the process and do exactly what our democratic government requires—effectuate the voices of their constituents.
The Park’s Service’s action with respect to Biscayne National Park, fly in the face of the Obama Administration’s efforts through the America’s Great Outdoors program, to increase public access to outdoor opportunities with an emphasis on getting kids in urban environments outside and active, and calls for improved partnerships between the federal government and state and local agencies. Biscayne National Park is situated to be the crown jewel in the program, with its close proximity to Miami, and one of the largest urban recreational fishing and boating areas. But, rather than capitalize on this amazing opportunity, park officials have ignored compromise management practices and are instead proposing extreme measures that will throw that opportunity away.
Rather than considering the input of stakeholders and the state agency that has decades of proven expertise in fisheries management, the Park Service appears to have decided that it knows best, and that allows it to ignore the public in the pursuit of its own notions of sound conservation. While the Herald laments that “surely there is room for compromise” in this debate, it ignores the fact that it is the National Park Service that has completely shut the public out of this process. Our community welcomes meaningful debate and discussion from the Park Service, but we will not stand idly by as they circumvent years of stakeholder management discussion and threaten significant boating and fishing closures in the largest marine park in the nation.
Center for Coastal Conservation
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
National Marine Manufacturers Association
Coastal Conservation Association
American Sportfishing Association
Tags: Biscayne National Park, Miami Herald, National Park Service
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By Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
From The Saltwater Sentinel – the Newsletter of the Center for Coastal Conservation
It is easy to see why federal fisheries management is in the shape it is in.
On one side of the debate is a completely obstinate environmental community that refuses to budge even an inch to address a train wreck in federal fisheries brought on by some provisions of the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. On the other extreme is a recreational group involved in a coalition of charter and commercial fishing entities that takes a wildly different view from the environmental community.
In between and catching flak from both sides is a coalition of responsible fishing and boating groups working to find a way to address problems in federal fisheries management that doesn’t leave anglers at the dock, while remaining committed to conservation of our marine resources.
Last week, the environmental community sent letters to Congress opposing H.R.2304/S.1916 — the Fishery Science Improvement Act. One of the letters was signed by 129 scientists opposing the bills, although it is not clear if all of those scientists were sure what they were signing. Conversations with some of those scientists after the letter was released confirm that the bills were misrepresented.
This week, the Recreational Fishing Alliance launched yet another attack on everyone who does not support their “Flexibility” bill. Variations of the Flexibility Bill have been introduced in the last three Congresses to fix a 1996 requirement to rebuild overfished fisheries in a time certain. Environmentalists condemned that bill as fundamentally unraveling just about every conservation tenet of the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The 1996 reauthorization of MSA is responsible for many of the conservation provisions that have successfully rebuilt a number of our fisheries. However, that doesn’t discourage RFA from searching for scapegoats in our community for their bill’s repeated failure and engaging in an Internet campaign of scorched earth against its enemies, real and imagined.
Meanwhile, the environmental community refuses to do anything to disprove the impression that its ultimate goal in the 2006 reauthorization was to close the oceans and remove anglers from the water. To the contrary, it uses its vast resources to lobby against any effort to adjust the Magnuson-Stevens Act to fit the current capabilities of NOAA Fisheries. That intractable attitude is one of the factors that drives responsible members of the fishing and boating community up the wall.
It is said that when you start taking flak you know you are over the target. With attacks on the Fishery Science Improvement Act from the extreme ends of the political spectrum, it is clear that the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Center for Coastal Conservation, must be over the target.
As this session of the 112th Congress comes to a close, it looks as though passage of FSIA may be a bridge too far. But when the Congress reconvenes next month, we have another opportunity. I expect our champion Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) to secure a mark up on the House version of the bill. I believe Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will do likewise in the Senate. And we will solve this problem facing America’s fishermen.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization in a few years, and it is difficult to imagine how radioactive the environment may be by then. By refusing to engage in any meaningful manner, the environmental community has given fertile ground to an increasingly extreme opposition. At a time when groups should be working together to address problems in federal fisheries management, the issue is more polarized than ever and the future is uncertain, if not downright bleak.
Tags: federal fisheries, FSIA, Magnuson-Stevens Act
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Study finds artificial reefs are economic boon, enjoy widespread public support
by Mickie Anderson, UF/IFAS News
(Aug. 4, 2011) — A new Florida Sea Grant study of artificial reef use in six Southwest Florida counties shows the structures lure a lot more than fish.
The reefs, which provide habitat for popular sport fish and other marine life, pulled more than $253 million into the region during one year, the study found. Though it costs nothing more than a saltwater fishing license to use the submerged structures as a fishing spot, anglers spend money on food, lodging, fuel, tackle and other necessities.
The UF and Florida Sea Grant study, TP-178 Economic Impacts of Artificial Reefs for Six Southwest Florida Counties, looked at money generated by artificial reefs in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties in 2009. Researchers found that $136 million came from residents, while $117 million was spent by visitors.
Bob Swett, the UF associate professor and Florida Sea Grant extension specialist who led the study, said he was struck most by the contrast between the income generated and the small amount counties invest in the reefs — ranging from $20,000 to $60,000 a year for each county, with some years requiring little to no spending. The reefs also enjoy private support, such as local marine contractors who donate materials and in-kind labor.
“That shows me that there’s a lot of bang for the buck in terms of what they get out of the artificial reef programs,” said Swett, also a member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Chris Neal, who works for the Scuba Quest dive shop chain’s Sarasota location, said his company frequently takes groups of divers out to artificial reefs because the man-made structures allow divers to see such a wide variety of fish and wildlife.
“You can see all kinds of fish – flounder, hogfish, snapper and grouper,” he said.
Besides asking residents about their reef-related spending, the UF researchers also asked boaters who use reefs and those who do not their opinions about spending public money to build and maintain the structures, which are typically underwater piles of large, hollow concrete blocks where fish can hide.
While users were more likely to support such spending (county responses ranged from 83 percent to 95 percent, in favor), Swett said he was also impressed by non-reef users’ enthusiasm. Their support for spending public money on reefs ranged from 61 percent to 71 percent.
Artificial reefs are used for a number of activities, among them: enhancing recreational and charter fishing and diving, boosting reef fish populations and aiding scientific research.
For more than three decades, Florida Sea Grant has contributed to the evolution of the state’s reef-building community through research, scientific conferences and outreach activities. Many of its coastal county-based extension faculty are involved in some activity related to artificial reefs.
Florida’s artificial reef program, created in 1982, includes more than 2,500 documented artificial reefs in the state’s coastal waters. About one-third of them were the subject of the recent economic study.
Other survey highlights: on average, more than 5,600 southwest Florida residents use artificial reefs every day; for-hire fishing enterprises, including fishing guides, charter boats and party boats, accounted for nearly $90 million in spending, and artificial reefs support more than 2,500 full- and part-time jobs.
The researchers used a combination of mail, telephone and e-mail to collect survey responses.
The study was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the West Coast Inland Navigation District and the participating counties. Besides Swett, the research team included Chuck Adams, a marine economics professor; Sherry Larkin, associate professor in resource economics, extension scientist Alan Hodges and postdoctoral associate Thomas J. Stevens.
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