Why It Matters: The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a top angling destination in the United States, and anglers, as much as anyone, want to ensure this incredible marine resource is effectively managed for healthy habitats and abundant fisheries for future generations. A previous Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed new management direction for the sanctuary contained several new “no-take” or highly restricted areas that would have negatively impacted angling access. Fortunately, many of those were removed from the most recent draft.
- The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the United States and contributes significantly to the $13.8 billion in economic impact of recreational fishing in the state.
- As the popularity of the Florida Keys as an angling and boating destination continues to grow, so do the challenges of balancing resource use with sustainability.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) recently submitted comments on the latest draft proposed rule for managing the sanctuary in the future, which was much improved from the first Draft Environmental Impact Statement that proposed several new unnecessary provisions impacting angler access.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) is a national treasure for America’s saltwater anglers, whether fishing inshore for tarpon, permit, and bonefish or venturing a few miles offshore to the Gulf Stream to chase billfish, wahoo, and dolphin (aka mahi-mahi and dorado), the sanctuary offers something for every saltwater angler. However, with increasing use comes increasing challenges for balancing Florida Keys marine resource protection with public access to those resources, and the draft FKNMS Restoration Blueprint is attempting to strike that balance.
Last week, CSF submitted comments on the latest FKNMS draft rule, welcoming the rule’s focus on improving water quality, enforcement, and public education, as well as the emphasis on habitat and coral restoration. While the previous (2019) Restoration Blueprint Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) presented numerous concerns regarding angler access, CSF was pleased to see that many of our recommendations regarding the DEIS were incorporated in the new proposed rule, not the least of which was the elimination of the Tortugas Corridor Sanctuary Preservation Area, which would have severely and unnecessarily restricted angling access in a 25,000-acre area between the Dry Tortugas and a preservation area to the southwest.
CSF’s comment letter also emphasized several areas in which the Restoration Blueprint draft rule could be improved. These included the use of artificial reefs for habitat improvement, clarifying that the definition of “anchoring” should not include the use of push poles and power poles, and that trolling should be allowed in several Sanctuary Preservation Areas located in deeper water where there would be an extremely low potential for bottom contact or damage to coral reef restoration efforts.
Finally, the letter encouraged the FKNMS to continue to defer to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and NOAA Fisheries for fisheries management decision in the ongoing revision to the Protocol for Cooperative Fisheries Management.