POINT OF VIEW: Biscayne marine reserve, solution in search of a problem

Kellie Ralston_headshotThis article originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post, July 14, 2016.

By Kellie Ralston

Nowadays, bipartisanship within Congress is about as rare as recreational red snapper fishing in federal waters (zero days in the South Atlantic, 11 days in the Gulf of Mexico). That’s what makes it especially heartening to see Florida’s congressional leaders stepping up to ensure fishing access in one of South Florida’s most popular fishing areas, Biscayne National Park.

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio recently introduced the Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016, which has already passed out of committee, to stop an unwarranted marine reserve in Biscayne National Park.

Recreational fishing is part of Florida’s culture and lifestyle, providing family-friendly enjoyment for more than 3 million Floridians and visitors to our state each year. Florida has earned the reputation of the “Fishing Capital of the World” due to its tremendous fisheries resources and wise fisheries management. In order to maintain and enhance recreational fishing opportunities, our community depends on sound, science-based policies that take into account conservation needs while ensuring public access.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are almost always contentious subjects in the world of fisheries management. It’s my experience that there are essentially two types of MPAs: those that are based on fisheries management, and those that are based on ideology.

MPAs are unquestionably a tool in the fisheries management toolbox. In instances where traditional fisheries management approaches, such as bag limits, size limits and gear restrictions are unsuccessful at sustaining a healthy fish population or preventing damage to critical habitat, MPAs can serve as an important tool.

MPAs do nothing to address the true challenges to our coral reefs such as temperature rise, ocean acidification, pollution or invasive species. However, the success of well-planned MPAs in rebuilding certain fish stocks in a limited number of instances has fueled a movement within parts of the environmental community to broadly promote MPAs as a panacea that will fix all of the problems affecting the marine environment.

Proponents of the Biscayne Bay marine reserve often justify it by citing a reserve that was established in 2007 in the Dry Tortugas. However, the Dry Tortugas marine reserve covers a large area that was identified as an important spawning area for many species in the snapper/grouper complex.

Importantly, it was developed in close coordination with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and stakeholders. The Biscayne Bay marine reserve meets none of these criteria.

KELLIE RALSTON, TALLAHASSEE

Editor’s note: Kellie Ralston, a fifth-generation Floridian, is the Florida Fisheries Policies director for the American Sportfishing Association.