As expected, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Restoration Blueprint is encountering enormous pushback from all sectors and user groups throughout the Florida Keys. This latest iteration does not take into account decision making of the working groups developed early in the process to address the proposed rules and regulations of the original plan. That plan was derailed in 2015-16 by the reassignment of the top three management officials as a result of an Inspector General’s investigation and subsequent Sanctuary internal investigation, the details of which have never been released.
Closing areas and limiting access fails to address the three major issues facing the health and well-being of the Sanctuary. Water Quality, Law Enforcement and Education need to be adequately assessed, and there is nothing in the 585-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement presented by the Sanctuary to confront these matters.
Restricting access and closing additional areas will have severe, negative socio-economic impacts on traditional activities in the Keys such as commercial fishing, recreational and charter fishing, dive operations and basic enjoyment of our unique water-based environment through limits on general aquatic activities.
Fisheries management is the responsibility of the Gulf and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Protecting these resources is best accomplished through size and bag limits and spawning closures – not by closing public access. All of the key indicator species in our waters have been recently assessed by formal state/federal audits and all are found to be in good to excellent condition.
Public comment from all user groups have consistently stated that the Sanctuary is in far worse condition than it was when the Sanctuary took control. In fact, declaring the area a National Marine Sanctuary has encouraged significant increases in tourism, resulting in ever-greater impacts due to uneducated pubic activity. Sanctuary Preservation Areas designated to protect fragile coral formations are inundated by users who pay no user fees, are not required to have Sanctuary rules or regulations on board their vessels and lack basic knowledge of the marine environment. A study done by Camp 2010 documented 18 interactions per diver per dive in SPAs despite pre-dive briefings. Krieger/Chadwick 2013 documented a direct correlation to coral damage with the increased placement of mooring buoys at SPAs. Yet, the Restoration Blueprint calls for additional mooring buoys at these same areas.
In 2014 the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council under Spiny Lobster Amendment 11 approved 60 new coral protection sites developed by our Association, working with state/federal fisheries managers and environmental groups. These are all high-profile coral sites and coral farming locations. The restriction only applied to commercial trap fishing for lobster. At those developmental meetings, Sanctuary officials stated they would move forward and apply these same rules to recreational users. However, that never happened and 5 years later not one of those sites is included in the Sanctuary plan for additional action.
During the past 4-1/2 years, there has not been one meeting with user groups or any of the working groups to reassess the proposed Restoration Blueprint. This is a serious oversight and as written, the Sanctuary Restoration Blueprint fails to address the concerns of residents and businesses that comprise the backbone of our economy. We highly recommend the Sanctuary withdraw this plan and reconvene meetings to address these critical issues.
- Captain Bill Kelly
Executive Director, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 1 p.m. at the Islander Resort, 82100 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada. Members will discuss NOAA’s proposed changes to the sanctuary’s boundaries, marine zones, regulations and management plan. Public oral and written comment on the Restoration Blueprint will be accepted at the meeting. Meetings are streamed live on YouTube.