Public Locked Out of Biscayne National Park

Recreational boating and fishing community strongly objects to fishing closure

Today, the National Park Service announced its final General Management Plan (GMP) for Biscayne National Park. Despite commitments made by Biscayne National Park officials to work with stakeholders and the state of Florida to explore less restrictive options, the GMP includes a marine reserve, eliminating fishing and severely restricting boating in over 10,000 acres of the park’s most popular and productive marine waters.

“America’s recreational fishing community is disheartened by the National Park Service’s decision to implement a marine reserve at Biscayne National Park,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “We understand the importance of protecting our natural resources and the delicate balance needed to ensure that anglers and boaters are able to enjoy these public waters. However, the National Park Service has shown little interest in compromise and today’s announcement confirms a lack of desire to include the needs of park users and stakeholders in important decisions such as this.”

For the past several years, a large coalition of partners in the recreational boating and fishing community has submitted comments, attended public meetings and organized discussions with the leadership at the National Park Service in an attempt to balance the critical need for conservation with the need for recreational access to the park’s waters. Numerous fisheries management measures were presented to the National Park Service that would balance resource conservation with maintaining public access, including size limits, bag limits, quotas, permits, seasonal closures and gear restrictions.

“Today’s announcement confirms that Biscayne National Park officials never had any real interest in working with stakeholders or the state of Florida to explore compromise plans,” said Mike Leonard, Ocean Resource Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association. “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, one of the nation’s leading fisheries management agencies, has stated that a marine reserve is far too restrictive, and that other management measures can achieve resource goals while still allowing for public access. The only conclusion that one can draw from this decision is that the public is simply not welcome at Biscayne National Park.”

“Anglers recognize that the condition of the fisheries resources in Biscayne National Park needs to be addressed, but we also know that once an area is closed, the public will never be allowed back in,” said Jeff Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association Florida’s Government Relations Committee. “These decisions should happen only when clearly supported by science, and when all other management options have failed. By not giving other, less restrictive options a chance, the National Park Service has put Florida’s reputation as ‘Fishing Capital of the World’ at stake.”

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