Leave Fisheries Management to FWC

By Gary Jennings
Keep Florida Fishing Manager

In my last blog, I introduced the Our Florida Reefs (OFR) initiative and shared my public comments from the March 2016 meeting.

On April 6 – 7, 2016, I attended another OFR meeting in Coconut Creek, FL.  Despite an outpouring of opposition by more than 3,000 Florida anglers and no credible scientific proof that recreational fishing is causing problems for the reef habitat, it was extremely disappointing to learn that OFR has decided to proceed with the Recommended Management Actions (RMAs).  The RMAs would reduce recreational fishing access in southeast Florida by up to 30 percent and reduce state control of our resources.

Below are my comments from day two of OFR’s two-day meeting.

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My name is Gary Jennings, and I am with the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and manage Keep Florida Fishing.

I would like to thank everyone in the group for their time and efforts to protect Florida’s Coral Reefs but feel that there has been severe mission creep.

At this meeting and the meeting in March, it was brought up that it was about time for those with fishing interests to attend meetings. OFR was created to protect coral reefs, not manage marine fisheries. As soon as we became aware of this mission creep, we began attending. We also worked to find people to fill positions and be a part of the working group.

It is difficult for recreational anglers and charter captains to attend as they have jobs that are not paying them to attend these meetings. Many of the people attending are being paid to attend, whether from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Department of Environmental Protection, educational institutions or the many non-governmental organizations that are here. Every one of these groups named has a special interest in furthering or protecting their agenda. We want to protect the reefs, improve water quality and continue to have access. Our industry depends on it.

Procedurally, it appears that public opposition against any of the RMAs in the public comment process has been ignored:

3,071 against Marine Protected Areas (MPA)                                                                                                           160 For
2,840 against National Marine Sanctuary (NMS)                                                                                                        22 For
2,817 against United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization                                                              16 For
2,810 against Coral Gardens                                                                                                                                    30 For

In addition, the Coastal Conservation Association Florida (CCA), which represents 13,000 recreational and conservationist anglers, also was against these RMAs.

Ignoring these comments brings anglers to the conclusion that decisions are being made based on agendas, not on science and not on public comment as the OFR charter calls for.

To go on record and to be clear, fishing is well regulated in our state. Fishermen are the conservationists in the state providing $40 million in license and special taxes toward fisheries management and protection. FWC has a law enforcement division that is well represented here.

There was a comment made by a working group member that if there was only one fish left, a fisherman would eat it rather than let it reproduce. Anglers and hunters are THE leaders in conservation. We want sustainable fisheries. All you need to do is look at snook, redfish, mutton snapper, Goliath grouper and barracuda to see examples of fishermen asking for lower bag limits and increased protection. Organizations like CCA, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, ASA and Snook and Gamefish Foundation are just some examples of recreational fishermen working for sustainable fishing.

A few comments were made that National Marine Sanctuary or Marine Protected Area (MPA) status does not mean that fishing will be banned. If you read the RMA N-146 describing the MPA framework, it clearly states the goal of SECRI and OFR is to designate 20-30 percent of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative/OFR area as no-take. Scientific studies of no-take MPA effectiveness have provided mixed results at best. The study most applicable to the OFR region was done in the Keys and showed mixed benefits to fish populations and no benefit for corals. We urge you to consider these results as you deliberate N-146 and its content and priority in your recommendations since you voted not to remove any RMAs. Closures should be the last tool in the fisheries management toolbox, not the first choice. Anglers know this and that other options have not yet been explored.

To me, it is shocking that water quality is not first and foremost in priority. With no baseline established for reef water quality, focus on that and leave the fisheries management to the department that has been tasked with that effort – FWC. Work with the existing tools available to address your concerns; don’t add another layer of bureaucracy that will bog things down.

You can plan on us attending the June meeting, and we will ask our partner organizations to bring their membership as well.

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