Coalition Acts to Maintain Angler/Boater Access in Florida’s Biscayne National Park

Groups say Park Service Should Work with State to Resolve Differences in Management Plan

biscayne nat’l park

Legislation Introduced to Preserve Fishing Access in Biscayne National Park

On the heels of the recent announcement to close over 10,000 acres of Biscayne National Park to fishing, a coalition of recreational fishing and boating organizations praised the introduction of a bipartisan bill, H.R. 3310, that will help stop this and similar unwarranted fishing closures from occurring. Led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), and 28 other original sponsors, the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act” requires the National Park Service and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state waters to recreational or commercial fishing. “Probably the most concerning aspect of the Biscayne National Park marine reserve decision is the total disregard for the fisheries management expertise of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “The states are responsible for nearly all of our nation’s saltwater fisheries management successes. This legislative safeguard will prevent the federal government from ignoring the fisheries management expertise of the states in these types of situations.” Throughout the development of the General Management Plan for Biscayne National Park, through which the marine reserve is being implemented, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided detailed recommendations to improve the condition of the fisheries resources in the park. The Commission has continually expressed its position that the proposed marine reserve is overly restrictive to the public; will not be biologically effective; and that less restrictive management tools can rebuild the park’s fisheries resources and conserve habitat. The recreational fishing and boating community has echoed these concerns, but nevertheless the National Park Service ultimately elected to close nearly 40 percent of the park’s reef tract to fishing. “The Congressional leaders who are sponsoring this bill are to be commended for this common sense approach to protect saltwater anglers from unwarranted access restrictions,” said Chris Horton, Fisheries Program director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “The Biscayne National Park marine reserve is part of a concerning trend of closing marine areas without scientific basis or an understanding of the critical role anglers play in the economy and in funding conservation.” “Marine reserves are a tool in the fisheries management toolbox, but too often we see them promoted with questionable-at-best motivations,” said Jeff Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s Government Relations Committee. “This bill will ensure that Florida has a say in important fisheries management decisions in Biscayne National Park, including marine reserves, and that similar issues don’t arise in other parts of the state and country.” On Monday, August 3, the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint hearing to explore the potential implications of lost access due to the Biscayne marine reserve. The hearing will begin at 10am EST and is being held at the William F. Dickinson Community Center in Homestead, Florida.Biscayne National Park

A national coalition of fishing and boating organizations has sent[ a letter]( Coalition Letter 9-12 (4).pdf) 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]( GMP - Final Joint Statement with FWC - 09-21-12.pdf).

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.”