It’s time to celebrate, and not just because it’s Friday!

Gary_Jennings_Head_Shot-277x300People ask all the time, “What does the ASA do besides put on ICAST?” A lot of what we do is go to meetings like the Regional Fishery Management Council meetings held this week in the Florida Keys. We research, we build coalitions with other groups in support of fisheries issues and we do what we can to make a positive difference.

Yesterday was a great example. The American Sportfishing Association represented the recreational fishing industry at the Coastal Oceans Task Force (COTF) meeting held in Boca Raton, Florida. Community leaders from government, non-governmental organizations and stakeholders (recreational fishermen, divers, marine industry representatives, etc.) from Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties met for the last time to vote on a move to request that NOAA make the nearshore state waters from Stuart down to Miami part of a National Marine Sanctuary.

They have been working on this project for years and are passionate about taking care of the waters off our respective shores. Everyone at the meeting had the same basic objective – clean waters and abundant fisheries. To the fishermen in the room, one thing was clearly missing – access to use them.

In recent years, marine reserves or Marine Protected Areas have become catch phrases that few people actually understand. Often at first blush, the average person immediately agrees with them. The important part, the science part, is often not at the forefront of the discussion. I liken it to using a sledge hammer when all that is needed is a tack hammer. This is what happened in California where over 100 no-fishing zones have been designated all along the coast, blocking access to much of the state’s best areas for fishing. The COTF appeared to be headed down that same road and was on the brink of inviting the federal government in the door, which in turn was likely to lead to a closed door to Florida’s anglers.

Before voting, the task force opened the floor for public comment. Representing the fishing industry, and really all fishermen, your ASA representatives, armed with information supplied by ASA’s government affairs staff, relayed what makes Florida the #1 fishing state in the country. Explaining to the task force that more than 3 million people go fishing in Florida every year supporting $8.6 Billion (with a capital “B”) in economic activity along with 80,000 jobs was a powerful attention grabbing statement. It was also important for them to know that Florida’s anglers are leaders in conservation. Our fishermen contribute $30 million in license fees along with another $11 million in fishing and boating excise taxes that go to management and conservation of Florida’s fisheries and aquatic habitat.

Last week’s Biscayne National Park closure of over 10,000 acres of prime reef area to fishing without any fisheries based science to back it showed that the possibility of fishing closures is very real. A reminder of the federal government’s “No Red Snapper” fishing on the South Atlantic coast and only 10 days in the Gulf despite a tremendously successful rebuilding of the stock furthered the argument to let the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission handle state fisheries issues.

Let’s get one thing straight – closing areas to fishing is a viable tool in fisheries management. It does, however, need to have science behind it. It is like the President pushing the red button – you don’t do it unless it is absolutely necessary. The Biscayne National Park closure clearly was not. Just look a little closer into the politics of a certain high end community nearby and you will begin to put the pieces together on why it happened the way it did.

Local chapter members from CCA Florida and the Palm Beach Fishing Club also echoed that the state is well-equipped to regulate its own waters. Florida’s coastal fisheries are not only healthy, but they are also accessible through regulations that allow for reasonable and responsible fishing opportunities. Getting support from these groups along with letters written by Maverick Boats’ Scott Deal and Hell’s Bay Boatworks’ Chris Peterson helped tremendously in insuring that all Floridians will have access to the waters off south east Florida.

That doesn’t mean the fight is over. It is up to us to make sure that the water quality improves. That means less nitrates in the water from fertilizer and septic tanks. It means better storm water run-off systems, less trash on the beach, less trash thrown off boats, anchoring in legal areas so as not to damage coral, and yes, sustainable fishing. This is going to be an ongoing educational process that starts with each of us talking to our friends and family on how to properly enjoy our natural resources.

We at ASA are working hard every day to make sure that we can all enjoy the passion that has led to our careers. Enjoy this victory, and get ready to help with the next issue – it will be coming around the corner when you least expect it.

Do your part so we can Keep Florida Fishing!

Gary Jennings
Manager, Keep Florida Fishing