Federal and state officials are trying to strike a balance between conservation and public access to South Florida waters.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed Thursday to back tighter fishing limits in Biscayne National Park, where fish populations have dwindled.
The commission is also considering a new plan that would restrict access to popular reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Several scientists are researching ways to restore the corals that have been decimated by disease and pollution.
On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about the issue with WLRN’s environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich and WLRN’s Keys reporter Nancy Klingener.
Here's an excerpt of their conversation:
TOM HUDSON: How is this playing out not just with folks in the Keys but with the hospitality industry?
NANCY KLINGENER: They said, right from the get go, our intent is not to keep out the local boaters who understand how to navigate these waters. We just want to make sure that somebody from, you know, Indiana, who has never driven a boat in a reef environment before, isn't going out there and trashing the reefs. One of the ways that they talk about doing this is to limit, at least the commercial operators to Blue Star-certified operators. And that got a huge negative reaction from local boaters.
HUDSON: Describe Blue Star. Is that some kind of Good Housekeeping seal of approval
KLINGENER: Exactly. From the Sanctuary. And they've just introduced it in fishing guides now as well, where, you've basically done some training and you've agreed to doing best practices and just being really environmentally conscious.
HUDSON: Jenny, when it comes to Biscayne National Park and the fish populations. Are we talking about limiting fishermen?
JENNY STALETOVICH: In the management plan, the park in 2015 did include a 10,000-acre marine preserve, which would be a no-fishing zone around reefs. So that's a fraction of the 225-square-mile park. But they got huge pushback from that — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and [former Miami-Dade Congresswoman] Ileana Ros-Lehtinen even floated a bill in Congress to block it. And while they want to keep it open to local boaters, those tourism dollars are hugely important. So they're getting pressure from the boating industry to not set any kind of restricttion.
HUDSON: It's a familiar tension that we see on land when it comes to real estate development and those that are looking for efforts to regrow mangroves or to shore up natural shorelines as defense mechanisms against hurricanes or even sea level rise, right
STALETOVICH: Right. But park advocates say, This is a national park. This is our Yellowstone National Park. And if we have an ecosystem that is so threatened, we need to treat it that way. You have to get a permit to get in parts of Yellowstone. So they think that the same should apply to Biscayne National Park.
HUDSON: Is it moving in that direction?
STALETOVICH: Well, no, because I think there is so much pushback. That management plan that called for the marine preserve that was passed in 2015 is still sitting there, not implemented. I've talked to people and they say there doesn't look like there's any indication that that's going to move forward.
The transcript of this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.