Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act (H.R. 3310) with the bipartisan support of 30 House colleagues. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo are among 18 members of the Florida congressional delegation to have cosponsored H.R. 3310. This bill would ensure that federal and state agencies collaborate in the development of any new fishing access restrictions in areas where state marine waters and national park or national marine sanctuary boundaries overlap.
The bill was developed in response to the new moratorium on fishing proposed by the National Park Service across 10,500 acres of park waters and 30% of Biscayne National Park’s reefs over the objections of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and many members of the public. Given the importance of both recreational and commercial fishing to Florida’s economy, and the large impact this closure would have on one of the most visited and fished marine parks in the United States, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is working to make sure that federal and state government agencies collaborate to protect fishermen’s livelihoods, improve recreational opportunities for families, and conserve our precious environmental resources.
The bill is supported by FWC and a diverse array of fishermen, conservationists, and industry groups including the American Sportfishing Association, Cape Canaveral Shrimp Company, Inc., Center for Coastal Conservation, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Dixie Crossroads Inc./Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant, Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman’s Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Organized Fishermen of Florida, Southeastern Fisheries Association, Inc., and Wild Ocean Seafood Market.
Additionally, on Monday, August 3, 2015, at 10:00am the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint oversight hearing titled, “Restricted Access at Biscayne National Park and Implications for Fishermen, Small Businesses, the Local Economy and Environment.” This hearing will be held at the William F. Dickinson Community Center, 1601 N. Krome Avenue, in Homestead, Florida.
Ros-Lehtinen released the following statement:
“We all have a stake in the protection of Biscayne National Park’s natural resources and the preservation of vital economic and recreational opportunities that depend on Biscayne’s beauty and bounty. Over the past 15 years, I have prodded the National Park Service to increase their outreach and work together with all stakeholders in the process of developing a new General Management Plan. However, the stubborn and unsupported inclusion of a no-fishing zone in the park’s final proposal seems to be the result of a process that treats collaboration like a check box on a form, rather than as a serious dialogue between partners. That’s not right, and we should demand better from our federal government.
It’s especially important to me that we reconnect South Floridians with the natural lands and waters that surround and support our community, and that means giving folks as many opportunities as possible to enjoy, and thrive alongside, the ‘watery wonderland’ of Biscayne National Park. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act, and continue strengthening the ties that bind local communities to their public lands and waters.”
Nick Wiley, the Executive Director of Florida Fish and Wildlife has issued the following letter in support of Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal:
FWC Letter of Support for the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act:
Dear Representative Ros-Lehtinen:
On behalf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), I am pleased to support the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act.”
Biscayne National Park is one of America’s treasures. The United States National Park Service (NPS) calls it, “A Watery Wonderland.” FWC agrees.
Biscayne National Park is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts who wish to boat, kayak, snorkel, camp, observe wildlife, and especially fish. NPS says, “…Biscayne National Park offers diverse fishing experiences. Although the park is part of a federal (emphasis courtesy of NPS’s website) agency, fishing and other harvesting activities are largely governed by state (emphasis courtesy of NPS’s website) law.” FWC agrees.
FWC endeavors to provide a well-balanced approach to ensuring opportunities for resource use and conservation and, in many cases, Florida is admired for its ability to balance both interests fairly using the best empirical and objective data available. NPS’s Ocean and Coastal Resources Program states, “Ocean and coastal park management requires specialized experience with shoreline, island, marine, and Great Lakes environments.” FWC agrees and believes that state fish and wildlife management agencies have the most knowledgeable and specialized experience dealing with management of these local environments. NPS acknowledges, “Regulations concerning fishing and the take of fish from National Parks are most often established in coordination and cooperation with the State fisheries departments in which state(s) the park occurs.” In fact, the Federal Code of Regulations (C.F.R. Section 2.3), which governs the use and management of National Park System areas, requires that fishing occur in accordance with “the laws and regulations of the State within whose exterior boundaries a park area or portion thereof is located,’ except for parks (such as Biscayne) for which special exceptions have been made.
NPS admits, “Park staff work with the State of Florida to promote regulations that ensure the long-term sustainability of fisheries resources.” FWC is grateful to have partnered with NPS on development of many of the fishing-related policies for Biscayne National Park. However, the FWC’s and the NPS’s philosophies differ with respect to when fishery closures should be implemented. FWC believes the natural resources managed by the NPS, such as all the other resources of this great nation, belong to the people of the United States of America, and that the people should not be denied access to their resources unless extreme circumstance dictate that no other reasonable option will accomplish the goals of an appropriate management plan. Therefore, FWC believes that fishery closures are a tool of last resort that should only be used when all other management measures have been tried and failed. FWC does not believe that Biscayne National Park has adequately considered or attempted less restrictive management measures that could be used to reach NPS’s goals. While NPS’s own motto is “Experience Your America,” it has expressed its intent to close a 10,000 plus acre area to fishing within Biscayne National Park before any of the intended actions detailed in the recently finalized Fishery Management Plan have even been implemented.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, FWC and NPS agree that the waters and other natural resources of Biscayne National Park are unique and worthy of special conservation measures. FWC worked closely with NPS staff in the development of the Fishery Management Plan, and our FWC Commissioners expressed their formal support for finalizing that plan and implementing various measures described therein in order to accomplish NPS’s goals. That is why FWC was extremely disappointed when NPS recently released its General Management Plan (GMP) for Biscayne National Park, which outlines NPS’s decision to eliminate fishing completely in more than 10,000 acres of the best habitat for reef fishing.
Prior to releasing the GMP, FWC and other interested parties worked with NPS to provide information, data, common-sense reasoning, and alternative fishery management plans to keep the waters of Biscayne National Park open. This was so that local commercial fishermen and professional fishing guides could continue to make a living, and fishing enthusiasts from the United States and around the world could enjoy our country’s “Watery Wonderland.” Yet, NPS effectively disregarded the information and decided to eliminate fishing in this area. FWC stands with millions of anglers, boaters, wildlife observers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who oppose this closure.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, thank you for sponsoring the “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act.” This important legislation will require federal agencies to coordinate with state agencies and get their approval prior to making decisions that affect millions of Americans adversely. FWC looks forward to working with you to advance this important piece of legislation.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Biscayne Bay, Closures, fish, Fishing, Florida, National Park Service
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