Retirement party held for former FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto
By Jason Koler
Joe Weatherby, the man who fought for years to create one of the largest artificial reefs in the world off the shores of Key West, summed up the sentiments of many Florida Keys residents this past Wednesday night.
Business leaders, elected officials, and environmental stewards like Turtle Hospital Founder Ritchie Moretti and an army of commercial fishermen gathered at Catch 53 to celebrate the legacy of retiring FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.
“Rodney Barretto was one of the best friends this project had,” Weatherby said, referring to years of research, fundraising and political maneuvering that went into sinking the USS Vandenberg. “He showed real courage and as it turns out, showed real vision in sticking up for this project. As it turned out, the project far exceeded our expectations.”
Recent reports have shown a boom to the economy directly related to the wreck and Weatherby reported “almost 200 new species of fish that were not there before.”
“The Vandenberg was one of the great stories,” Barreto said in his farewell speech. “Joe, you’re right. It was as great accomplishment.”
Hosted by State Attorney Dennis Ward, former county mayor Mario DiGennaro and a joint effort courtesy of the Organized Fishermen of Florida (Marathon & statewide chapters) and Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association (FKCFA) – Barreto received his biggest praise from the commercial fishermen.
“We appreciate all that Rodney has done for us and the industry,” said OFF President Gary Nichols. “He is a very fair person and all we ask is for fairness. We like to provide seafood for working families and everyone else who likes to eat what we produce. We don’t want to over-fish and its important that our families continue the tradition and Rodney has been great in letting that happen.”
FKCFA Executive Director Bill Kelly went so far as to call Barreto “the most even-handed fishery managers that the Fish and Wildlife Commission in the State of Florida has ever experienced and had the pleasure of having on the commission.”
The South Florida native was first appointed to the FWC Commission by Governor Jeb Bush and reappointed by Governor Charlie Crist. During his ten year tenure he served as chairman for seven years.
His official bio outlines numerous public accomplishments and says he was twice named one of the 100 most powerful people in South Florida by South Florida CEO.
Barreto said his FWC highlights include the Vandenberg, creating an agency more receptive to the public and the passing of legislation that turned permit, tarpon, and bonefish into catch and release species.
“It will just protect a valuable fish that people travel from all over the world to catch,” he said, after admitting he was “extremely humbled by the turnout.”