The fact that there’s so much more to being a fishing guide than owning a boat and having a captain’s license was the driving force behind a new local program – for which a Keys man is about to win a national award. 

Knowledge of resources, techniques and more are the elements Key West guide Will Benson hopes to teach through the new Blue Star Fishing Guide Program.

The voluntary training and compliance program seeks to increase fishing guides’ knowledge and, ultimately, that of their clients, to conserve the unique marine ecosystem of the Keys. 

Benson was chairman of the working group which created Blue Star through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and has been named the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year. 

“It’s a huge honor. It’s something that I’m very grateful and thankful for, but I owe a lot of thanks to other members of the sanctuary advisory council who have done a lot of work to make that council one of the best in the country,” Benson said. “My winning this is more or less a reflection of the professionalism everyone on the council brings to their seat.”

The aim of the program is to increase the overall professionalism of fishing guides, to raise the bar for the profession, Benson said.

“Essentially, it’s an additional certification that recognizes the best-of-the-best fishing guides,” he said, and it has the potential to be a nationwide standard.

Of Benson’s award, Sarah Fangman, superintendent of the FKNMS, said, “It’s especially incredible given the caliber of volunteers from around the nation.”

FKNMS named Benson its Volunteer of the Year before he was chosen for the national award. 

“He saw how the Blue Star program could be translated to fishing guides and worked tirelessly from the beginning to get the framework up and running with the sanctuary,” Fangman said. “We’re just the first to thank Benson.” 

She said through Blue Star, anglers will be able to find and hire fishing guides who “know the regulations and understand that they are in place to sustain the fisheries for the next generation.”

The Blue Star Fishing Guide program provides online training for captains and crew members, covering general education about the national marine sanctuary, its diverse habitats and fisheries. Qualifying guides receive branded materials to market their business as a sanctuary partner, plus educational materials to share with clients and customers on their vessel. 

Fangman and Benson will travel to Washington, D.C., to accept the award in early June at the Ocean Awards Gala. 

For more information about the Blue Star Fishing Guide Program or to get involved, visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/onthewater/bluestar.html.

Benson also produces documentaries to spread awareness about the Florida Keys environment and conservation, which can be seen on his website, worldangling.com. 

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