Keep Florida Fishing Mobilizes to Fight No-Take Zones in Southeast Florida

KFF_logo_RGBHEX_300x300As an advocacy arm of the American Sportfishing Association, Keep Florida Fishing is working to ensure anglers in Florida have clean waters, abundant fisheries and access to both.

One example of how we are working to provide a voice for the sportfishing community is in the Our Florida Reefs (OFR) process. One of many proposals considered through the process is the creation of numerous Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that would create “no-take zones” from St. Lucie Inlet all the way to Key Biscayne.

Another proposal is to designate the entire area as a National Marine Sanctuary (NMS). Simply put, recreational anglers stand to lose up to 30 percent of our access to fishing in the area, even though there is no scientific evidence to show that fishing is causing problems to the reef ecosystem.

While OFR provided a website to submit public comment, it seems that they purposely made it cumbersome so that people would give up before submitting their comments.

In February 2016, Keep Florida Fishing launched a petition to oppose four of OFR’s Recommended Management Actions (RMAs). Florida’s angling community spoke loud and clear with their 2,200 comments, submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the March 1, deadline.

OFR, in comparison, collected less than 2,000 total comments online and through a series of 12 meetings.

On day one of OFR’s two-day meeting in Coconut Creek, held March 8-9, I was aghast when they excluded our petition and the signatures from the public comments they received.

In response, my comments are noted below.

Good morning,

My name is Gary Jennings.

I work for the American Sportfishing Association and manage their Keep Florida Fishing initiative.

Our goal is to make sure Florida’s three million resident and visiting anglers have clean waters, abundant fisheries and access to both.

Florida is the recreational fishing capital of the U.S. and the world. We want to keep it that way. In Florida, 80,000 recreational fishing-related jobs create $8.6 billion in economic activity and our state depends on that.

The way to do that is through sustainable fisheries management, ensuring clean waters and, of course, access. We believe the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has done a great job. Redfish have been brought back from collapse, as have Goliath grouper. Snook have recovered. Mutton snapper, barracuda and hogfish are being addressed.

Anglers are conservationists and put their money where their mouth is. Last year, $40 million from license fees and special taxes went to FWC law enforcement and fisheries research.

Yesterday, the term “special interest” came up a lot. Most of it in a negative aspect. However, each of us in this room has a special interest in protecting our Florida reefs. OFR’s members, from dive operators, non-governmental organizations, universities and government agencies, all have financial reasons to do so. That doesn’t make any of us bad. It makes us passionate.

Florida’s anglers are passionate enough to have 2,200 of them in less than three weeks say, “no,” to MPAs and NMS status. These are Florida anglers and businesses. That is a significant number that was not even mentioned in yesterday’s summary of public feedback. Any voting discussions that took place yesterday that dealt with MPAs, NMS, UNESCO or Coral Gardens need to be re-visited and take into account the nearly 2,200 comments submitted regarding each one.

We have seen what federal management does from Amtrak, to health care, to Veterans Affairs, to the Post Office, to Red Snapper management. State agencies like FWC are much more nimble and have the expertise to manage fisheries. They listen and they act.

We appreciate your dedication and time, but feel you are neglecting to use the experts sitting right in front of you. Yesterday, two FWC biologists were here and both were placed at the law enforcement discussion table instead of with the diving, boating and fishing group.

Use the considerable talent here, and address the elephant in the room. Coral reefs’ true enemy is water quality in the form of introduced nitrates, phosphates, salinity, sedimentation, temperature and damage from anchoring.

Let the fisheries management people know your fisheries concerns, and then let them do their jobs.

As for fisheries groups coming to the table late, OFR was founded to protect corals, not to add another layer of fisheries management. We came to the table when your RMAs became public and suggested significant fishing restrictions. We found the public comment process awkward and cumbersome, so we had concerned Florida anglers sign hard copies and a petition.

Yesterday some said “Just give me a sample” of the comments. I say “No.” Let them all be heard, and I also say “please listen.”

Thank you for your time and dedication. Together, we can both protect our Florida reefs and Keep Florida Fishing.

This is just one example of how Keep Florida Fishing is providing a voice for anglers in Florida.

OFR will hold another meeting April 6-7, in Coconut Creek. We will be there, standing up for Florida’s anglers.