Rooted in conservation since the early 50’s, the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association (“FKFGA”) has long been involved the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s (“FKNMS”) management practices and continues to be involved with their new management proposal called the Restoration Blueprint. Our group is made up of professional fishing guides who are committed to preserve and protect the fisheries and other natural resources of the Florida Keys and Everglades.
As much as our organization would like to chisel this Restoration Blueprint to benefit our own specific interests – we know that may be unreasonable. Compromise pains us as much as it pains every other stakeholder. But, as professionals who work on the water every day, we are committed to analyzing and weighing in on the management of our local resources with objectivity and professionalism.
The recently released alternatives from the FKNMS’s Restoration Blueprint is an overdue and massive document affecting an unbelievable number of user groups. Divers, offshore fishermen, snorkelers, homeowners, flats guides and photographers all have their own ideas about what will make the most sense for their group.
Our organization is devoted to working within the system that we have – and weighing in line by line on how we envision reasonable management. We will formally provide feedback and give suggestions on how to improve the management practices of the FKNMS rules that have been proposed and we will meet directly with officials within the FKNMS to go through each of our suggestions.
A sample of some of our concerns are:
- We support many of the preferred alternative proposals regarding the Upper Keys, like the expansion of the Wildlife Management Areas (“WMA’s) along Rodriquez and Dove Keys, Tavernier Key, Cotton Key, and Snake Creek as long as they allow for flats fishing;
- We support all no motor zones proposed in the preferred alternative, with the understanding that they allow for idle speed, poling and electric trolling motors. This will help to prevent further prop scarring and protect shallow-water habitats;
- We support Sanctuary-wide prohibitions to discharge any material or matter from cruise ships; (Why isn’t this already in place?)
- We do not support the Long Key and Tennessee Reef Sanctuary Preservation Areas. Understanding the FKNMS’s goal to protect massive contiguous and varied habitats, flats fishing does not damage any of these habitats or put undo stress on the fisheries. But a massive closure would add additional pressure on nearby fishing areas and would severely impact the economic potential of the flats fishing industry;
- We do not support land-based fish feeding as we believe science suggests this does more harm than good to our tarpon fishery;
- We will encourage the FKNMS to increase the enforcement of the rules already in existence and the ones created after the Restoration Blueprint becomes final.
The flats fishing industry is already aligned with most of the FKNMS’s management practices regarding marine use. Our boats have little if no impact on the habitats. Catch and release practices are almost standard practice, and flats fishing is rooted in quiet movement with very little disturbance both audibly and environmentally.
In order for the FKNMS to have meaningful management practices, they must prioritize water quality and enforcement. Random massive closures are not the answer. Education and enforcement are what’s needed.
The FKFGA membership is committed to working within the system to build a better future for the resource, our profession, our community and our families. We hope all stakeholders participate in this process and urge everyone to learn about the proposed alternatives, and make educated and informed comments to the FKNMS.
You can also visit our website to see our public comments once they have been submitted at https://www.fkfga.org.
Capt. Steve Friedman
Commodore, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association
Capt. Steve Friedman is a full-time backcountry/flats fishing guide and a 20 year resident of Islamorada where he lives with his wife and two children. He is a former candidate for House District 120, a founding board member of Florida Bay Forever and is currently the Commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides 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.
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).