Public awareness campaigns, signs at boat ramps promoting local guides, stickers, code enforcement, and changing state law — those are some of the points Doug Kilpatrick, president of the Lower Keys Guides Association, recommended to the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners on Jan. 23.
Kilpatrick told the board there are increasing threats to the recreational fishing industry.
“We know that the flats fishing guide industry brings in $460 million a year. We also know that there’s a thirty to forty percent increase in out-of-town guides that come to the Keys and work for three to four months every year,” he said.
Previous conversations between guides and county staff have revealed that it’s unlawful to charge out-of-county guides a different rate than local guidesfor an occupational license. So guides are preparing to advance legislation at the state level, similar to other states that charge thousands of dollars for non-residential guides. The Keys guides have also set their sights on more obtainable goals; like stickers issued with occupational licenses for boats and trailers in the hopes that vehicles without those might draw the attention of code enforcement.
But Kilpatrick and Capt. Will Benson, another guide, also brought up illegal “fishing lodges” where clients rent a room in a private home, and leave the dock with an unlicensed guide.
“That is completely wrong,” said Commissioner Danny Kolhage.
Monroe County has a similar case that will be heard by a special magistrate on Feb. 28. The county received a complaint last week about a 40-foot sportfisherman docked at a home on Little Torch.
“The home we are citing talks about the bathroom downstairs in the house that is available to those renting the boat in an advertisement,” said Francie Boellard, a county vacation rental inspector. “An anonymous resident stated everyone on the street and surrounding area (is) upset with the noise, traffic and different people seen coming from the property on a weekly basis.”
Mayor David Rice told the guides they must file code complaints when they learn of such activities.
“If you know of violations, and are not willing to make complaints, then nothing is going to happen,” Rice said, adding that he would support state legislation to charge out-of-state guides a higher occupational license fee.
Benson also told the board about a “mothership” anchored in the Marquesas. Benson said clients are ferried out to the boat where they sleep at night, and then are guided by captains without county or state licenses.
“We want to lay a foundation and work with you on finding solutions,” Benson said.
“We will even pay for the signage at boat ramps ourselves,” said Kilpatrick.
Commissioner Heather Carruthers said this industry expansion is the beginning of a major problem. “If we start using boats as hotel rooms … well, we lack the regulatory mechanisms,” she said. “And it’s about pump-outs and protecting water quality.”