Situated outside of Miami, Florida, Biscayne National Park (BNP) is the largest marine park in the National Park System and draws approximately 10 million fishing trips every year. The marine park’s significance to the fishing community has been threatened since 2011 by the National Park Service’s proposed General Management Plan (GMP), which presented extreme measures in the preferred alternatives that would be detrimental to recreational angling and access. Unfortunately, on June 5, 2015, the National Park Service announced its final GMP for Biscayne National Park significantly restricted access to BNP. 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.
BNP offers a unique experience. It features the longest undeveloped mangrove shoreline on Florida’s East coast and 164,000 acres of marine environment ideal for fishing and outdoor recreation.
Officials announced in August 2011 their intent to release a new General Management Plan (GMP), replacing the current plan which was last updated in 1983. Prior to the October 31 deadline, members of the recreational fishing community submitted formal comments for the draft GMP of BNP. Rather than closures, these comments included recommendations from the community for alternative management methods, more restrictive fishing regulations, species-specific spawning closures, and a mechanism to pay for improved enforcement and education of park rules and regulations. Despite expressed opposition and recommendations from the sportfishing industry and, importantly, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the NPS released a draft GMP that results in de-facto closures for some of the best fishing areas. Furthermore, the plan included establishment of a 10,522 acre no-take marine reserve and several “no combustion engine zones” within BNP.
On November 15, 2013, the National Park Service released the supplemental GMP with two new alternatives. The alternatives mark an improvement on the proposed 16 square-mile no-take marine reserve in 2011. The new preferred alternative, Alternative 6, identifies a 14,585 acre special recreation zone that allows fishing year round with a special permit, and includes no-wake zones as opposed to non-combustion engine zones originally proposed along the coastline. The plan calls for the permitting system to be administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and to include 500 total annual permits, with 430 for recreational anglers and 70 for licensed guides.
While the preferred alternative plan is a welcomed sign, it is also a new approach to balancing resource management priorities and recreational pursuits on NPS waters. The potential precedent it would set for future recreational angling on NPS waters is unclear. Additionally, the permitting system is not without faults. Specifically, stakeholders have expressed concerns over moorings in the special recreation zone, the number of permits issued, the potential need for limited-use permits, and a “use it or lose it” requirement with the permit.
In July 2013, CSF along with the American Sportfishing Association, the International Game Fish Association, the Center for Coastal Conservation, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association sent a letter to Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio asking for their continued input to the NPS decision-making process. In addition to noting the overly restrictive nature of marine reserves for anglers and boaters, the letter commended the steps taken in the supplemental GMP to balance resource conservation and reasonable public access. The correspondence further acknowledged the necessary cooperation between NPS and the FWC to ensure continued access in the proposed preferred alternative and also suggested potential improvements moving forward.
The Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus submitted public comments to National Park Service in support of the most recent supplemental GMP for Biscayne Bay National Park on February 20, 2014. In addition to noting support for Alternative 6, the Caucus also suggested several areas for consideration and improvements in balancing resource management priorities and recreational pursuits in National Park Service waters. The Caucus noted that maximizing the number and use of permits, allowing temporary permits for tourists, and phasing in the prohibition on anchoring as mooring buoys are installed are all important considerations moving forward.
In May 2014, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council (SFBPC) sent a letter to NPS Director Jon Jarvis and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley in support of Alternative 6. The SFBPC stressed the GMP’s impact on recreational anglers, boaters, and related businesses as well as the importance of maintaining public access while ensuring resource conservation. The letter further stated that Alternative 6 represents a promising improvement over the original plan to establish a marine reserve; however, future improvements will be needed to maintain progress.
CSF’s Gary Kania, American Sportfishing Association’s Mike Nussman, Mike Leonard and George Cooper, National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Nicole Vasilaros, and Boat U.S.’s Margaret Podlich and David Kennedy met with NPS Director Jon Jarvis to discuss the current issues regarding Biscayne Bay National Park in June 2014. Specific points included: the sportfishing community’s continued concern that a marine reserve is too restrictive, continued support for the plan’s Preferred Alternative 6 along with suggested improvements such as more permits.
CSF and seven other recreational fishing organizations wrote a letter to BNP Superintendent Brian Carlstrom in regards to finalizing the park’s GMP on October 10, 2014. They noted the recreational boating and fishing community’s opposition to GMP alternatives which involve closures. Permitting and seasonal closures were mentioned as two of the many management tools that would be superior marine reserves, balancing a healthy fishery with public access.
Unfortunately, on June 5, 2015, the National Park Service announced its final 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.
On June 26, 2015, Florida Representatives Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mario Diaz-Balart sent a letter to the House Committees on Natural Resources and Small Business requesting an oversight hearing be held on the National Park Service’s GMP and Fisheries Management Plan for Biscayne National Park. The joint oversight congressional hearing was ultimately held on August 3, 2015 in Homestead, FL and was entitled “Restricted Access at Biscayne National Park and Implications for Fishermen, Small Businesses, the Local Economy and Environment”. The hearing explored concerns from the recreational fishing community at large surrounding the undue closure of over 10,000 acres within the BNP despite objections from, most notably, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as well as many recreational angling advocacy groups.
Shortly before the joint oversight hearing, H.R. 3310 (“Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act”) was introduced on July 30, 2015. Sponsored by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Carlos Curbelo (FL), and 35 other original sponsors the legislation was a direct result of the BNP GMP marine reserve which completely ignored the FWC comments, concerns, and fishery management expertise. The legislation would require 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.
Ultimately, the exact language within H.R. 3310 was included within the House Sportsmen’s Package which passed the U.S House of Representatives within the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act on February 26, 2016.
Similar efforts to protect the authority and primacy of state management authority were spearheaded on the Senate side by Senators Bill Cassidy (LA) and Marco Rubio (FL) as well as Bill Nelson (FL). On April 18, 2016, S. 2807 (also entitled “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act”) was introduced and also aimed to ensure that any federal proposals concerning fishing access restrictions were “developed in coordination with, and approved by, the fish and wildlife management agency of the State or territory that has fisheries management authority over the marine waters”
Additionally, S. 3099, introduced by Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson entitled “The Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016” included a provision that would prevent unnecessary fishing closures in Biscayne National Park by requiring the use of the least restrictive measure and ensuring sound fisheries management and the state’s science were prioritized.
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