On January 31, CSF submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Restoration Blueprint (Draft EIS). While recognizing the challenges to marine resource protection with increasing visitors to the Florida Keys, the letter also highlighted several concerns from the recreational fishing community regarding proposed measures that unnecessarily restrict boating access, reduce angling opportunities and potentially create navigational hazards.
The Draft EIS proposes an expansion of the overall sanctuary boundary, increases in marine zones, changes to regulations within specific marine zones, and additional sanctuary-wide regulations, among other things. One of the most problematic proposed regulatory changes for anglers and boaters is with the Sanctuary Preservation Area (SPA) regulations. In addition to increasing the number of SPA’s, the new regulations within SPA’s would prohibit anchoring and require idle speed only for boaters. Some of these areas are very large, like the proposed 25,000-acre Tortugas Corridor SPA. The requirement to maintain idle speeds in rough seas for many miles is perplexing, especially since this particular SPA is in relatively deep water with no possibility of a boat’s wake impacting bottom substrate or contributing to shoreline erosion.
In addition, four existing SPA’s that currently have exemptions for catch-and-release trolling would see those exemptions eliminated. The letter encourages any measures that seek to reduce fishing effort and angler access be science-based and coordinated through a management agreement with the appropriate fisheries management authority, specifically the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in state waters and the Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils in federal waters.
Conversely, there are aspects of the Draft EIS that are broadly supported by the angling and boating community, such as limiting discharges from cruise ships to improve water quality; the addition of derelict vessel regulations that are consistent with FWC regulations; and the prohibition of fish feeding from a vessel or while diving that are consistent with FWC regulations, provided traditional methods of fishing continue to be exempted.
Generally, anglers and boaters support additional protections where needed to ensure healthy fisheries and pristine habitats. However, regulatory changes should be science-based and with the least restrictions necessary to allow for public enjoyment of our marine resources.
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