A national coalition of fishing and boating organizations has sent a letter dated Sept. 27, 2012, to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior expressing appreciation for recent positive steps in the development of a general management plan for the park, but also continuing concerns about the possibility of closing large areas of the park to the public.
Calling Biscayne National Park “a jewel in the national park system,” the letter points out that the park is part of one of the country’s largest urban recreational fishing and boating areas. The park “helps support Florida’s $19 billion recreational fishing and boating economy and the associated 250,000 jobs,” according to the coalition which includes the American Sport Fishing Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
A draft management plan the Park Service made public last November was developed without collaboration with the State of Florida, but the Park Service and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have since been working to resolve differences.
One of the primary differences requiring resolution involves how much of the park will or may be closed to sport fishing. The present plan proposed closing up to 20 percent of the park’s waters to fishing (via a 10,000-acre marine reserve) despite recommendations from stakeholders and the FWC. The latter has maintained throughout that less-restrictive measures would be adequate to meet the goals of the Park Service.
The coalition has expressed hope that the two agencies will result in a management plan that balances resource conservation with public access — including adequate areas for recreational fishing. However it is also concerned over recent NPS statements indicating that a marine-reserve zone remains an option.
“Simply excluding the public from accessing this public resource is not the appropriate way to address [the park’s] challenges,” says Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association.
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation president Jeff Crane points to a recent study showing that fishermen and hunters contribute $3 billion annually to natural-resource conservation. “Given the economic, social and conservation benefits of fishing,” he says, “managers at Biscayne National Park should work to facilitate and promote recreational fishing access, not unnecessarily restrict it.”