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New Everglades Rules Ban Use Of Motors On Boats In Some Areas

Bob Krist
Florida Keys News Service
The waters of Florida Bay off the Upper Keys are world-famous for fishing. The area has attracted anglers from baseball great Ted Williams to former President George H.W. Bush, who fished the bay during his presidency.

Everglades National Park has released its first new management plan since 1979. The plan, which should take effect in about 30 days, includes some new rules. That includes rules for Florida Bay, the estuary at the south end of the park.

Florida Bay is a famous fishing ground. In one of the plan's biggest changes, more than 100,000 acres will be set aside as "pole and troll" zones — areas where boats could not use motors. The aim is to protect the shallow seagrass beds from propeller scarring.

Tad Burke, a fishing guide based in Islamorada, has been fishing Florida Bay for about 30 years. He sat down with Nancy Klingener, who covers the Keys for WLRN, to talk about the new rules and what they mean for people who fish in the Bay.

Some interview highlights:

On the new management plan and its pole-and-troll zones

The original pole-and-troll zone that was put in Everglades National Park was in the Snake Bight area. That was actually recommended by fishing guides. The Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association was actually instrumental in bringing that to their attention and a good way to protect the flats. 

It turned out to be an extremely large piece of real estate to have pole-and-troll. In the beginning, we had different ideas for ingress and egress. Over time, through adaptive management, they have changed a few things so we have a little bit better ingress and egress, which is really important. One of the things that's really lost in all this is this is a public resource. This resources belongs to the people of the United States of America, everyone. So when you make areas that are no longer accessible, whether you do it by intention or whether you do it by accident, you have enormous areas of pole and troll zones that you can't get in and out of, and there's no ingress and egress. You're basically taking away public land.

On the nature of Florida Bay

The complications of Florida Bay are numerous. One of the things that's very interesting about Florida Bay is different times of year  there's different levels of water in the Bay. I can take you to a flat right now, or an area right now, a bight per se, up against the mainland, in the summer time in August, around the big moons and stuff, there will be three or four feet of water in there. I can take you back in January and there will be two inches of water there.

On why fishing guides support mandatory education for boaters using Florida Bay

The majority of the problems, prop scarring, that we see in Florida Bay — not the the problems, the majority of the prop scarring that we're seeing in Florida Bay — it's really caused by uneducated users. Having a mandatory education component in this management plan, it will make people actually go out and learn a little bit about the environment. Right now, you can go out and buy a boat that floats in six inches of water and a GPS and you just feel bulletproof. You can run all over Florida Bay and you feel like you can do no damage when it's quite the opposite. You can do a lot of damage. The advent of smaller, shallower draft boats and GPS has really led to a lot of the stuff that we have on the flats now. People no longer feared anything. They could just run anywhere they wanted to go.

On the biggest threat to Florida Bay

Prop scarring is not what is detrimentally killing Florida Bay. What's killing Florida Bay is water management. Poor management practices, overdevelopment of South Florida, water mitigation, those kinds of things have taken freshwater out of our estuaries, which is Florida Bay, and the lower part of the Everglades. That's led more to the decline in our fisheries and our seagrass.

Prop scars are very tangible. You can go out and see prop scars. You look at them and you're like, 'Oh no, somebody made a prop scar.' But what is not quite as tangible, visibly, is the poor water quality, which causes much more damage than any prop scarring added all together, as far as killing seagrass.