As a Florida Bay fishing guide, my initial reaction to the proposal of more regulation and potential closures is a resounding “NO!” However, I am also very aware of the direct relationship between healthy habitat and healthy fisheries. Even the newest of guides inherently understands this fact. Traversing the state recently, I found a direct connection between fish stocks and healthy habitat. Even common core math points to the obvious. Where habitat thrived, so did fisheries. Where habitat loss is present, so is the decline of all associated industry.
Hotels sell few beds if the water is unsafe to swim in and guides sell few days if the marine habitat doesn’t support the world-class fish it once did.
We must protect marine habitat, without restricting access to the fishing zones that make the Florida Keys the fishing capital of the world. This is an extremely important point to understand. With increased fishing pressure, limiting access to key areas only drives even more pressure to those that remain. The fishing industry is a small world and word travels fast. If the Keys were marked as having high pressure zones, traveling fishermen simply go elsewhere.
Everglades restoration plays a much larger role in restoring habitat and clean water in Florida Bay than any new regulation ever could. If regulation had any bearing on protecting habitat from bad water, Snake Bite in Florida Bay would still be pristine. After all, it has been over-regulated by access limitations since 2011 and still suffered immensely during the hyper-salinity habitat loss event of 2015. Yet, Everglades restoration is barely mentioned in the blueprint.
They are not mutually exclusive, however. The blueprint, if done in consideration of all parties, has the potential to be an excellent complement to Everglades restoration efforts. Fix the water, protect the habitat and pass on a pristine Florida Keys to future generations.
I strongly encourage the FKNMS to listen closely to the LKGA, FKFGA and all professional guide input with regard to closures and running zones. Protecting access to the fishing zones that make the Florida Keys famous is extremely important.
I strongly encourage the FKNMS to acknowledge the importance of Everglades restoration and the critical role clean water plays in habitat restoration.
I strongly encourage the FKNMS to continue to work with the entire community to educate, promote stewardship and find common ground.
Captain Benny Blanco
Florida Bay fishing guide
President, Everglades Guides Association
Captain Benny Blanco is a veteran Florida Bay fishing guide, president of the Everglades Guides Association and host of Guiding Flow TV. He attended Georgia Institute of Technology, majoring in environmental engineering, and has spent most of his adult life in Everglades National Park. His TV show, Guiding Flow TV is the only conservation-based fishing show of its kind. He is a leader among Florida’s outdoor recreational community and a true champion of Everglades restoration.
The Restoration Blueprint is available at floridakeys.noaa.gov/blueprint. NOAA is taking public comment on the proposals through Jan. 31, 2020. Comments may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov (docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0094).
To review the Weekly’s coverage of the Restoration Blueprint and community opinions about it, visit keysweekly.com/42/category/sanctuary-blueprint/.