Posted on Sun, Sep. 25, 2005

NOTEBOOK

Biscayne plan near finish
BY SUSAN COCKING

scocking@herald.com

The five-year process of developing a fishery-management plan for the waters of Biscayne National Park might be in the home stretch.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meeting Thursday in St. Petersburg Beach, approved the plan in concept so that it can go before public workshops later this fall.

The draft plan was hammered out over a series of meetings by a 24-member working group, plus several rounds of public hearings. After the upcoming workshops, it will have to go back to the FWC for approval of some of the provisions before final adoption by the park.

Among the key elements:

• An annual recreational use permit for fishers and boaters.

• A special-use permit for commercial fishers and charter guides.

• Elimination of the annual two-day lobster mini-season in all park waters.

• Prohibition of spearfishing using guns with triggers.

• Prohibition of spearfishing on scuba gear.

• Establishment of certain coral reef protection areas where crab and lobster traps would be prohibited.

• Increasing size limits and decreasing bag limits for some fish species.

The working group -- made up of recreational and commercial fishers; scientists; divers; and conservationists -- voted down the establishment of no-fishing zones, but those are likely to appear later in the park's long-range management plan.

OVERFISHING ISSUES

The Bush administration Monday released its proposed bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which, predictably, drew mixed reactions. The bill pledges to implement the findings of the 2004 Ocean Action Plan and to establish a hard deadline to end overfishing.

Among the provisions:

• Basing fishery management decisions on proven, scientific information.

• Encouraging fishery managers to use market-based management, such as dedicated access privileges, or catch shares, by 2010.

• Imposing tougher fines and penalties for violators of fishing laws.

• Ending overfishing practices as soon as possible, but no later than two years after development of a rebuilding plan.

• Creating a national saltwater angler registry to gauge the impact of recreational catches.

• Authorizing regional fishery management councils to develop ecosystem plans, rather than programs for individual species.

The group Environmental Defense reacted positively to the bill. In an e-mailed news release, the organization applauded the expansion of dedicated access privileges, saying the program gives fishermen a financial incentive to practice conservation.

However, the Marine Fish Conservation Network issued a statement criticizing the legislation for ``turning back the clock on ocean protection by at least a decade.''

The group's chief objection is that measures to end overfishing are too weak.

Janice M. Fleischer, J.D. • 0ffices in Tallahassee and Miami
400 Capital Circle SE Suite 18-143 • Tallahassee, Florida 32301 • Office: 850-877-8939 Fax: 850-216-2568
Miami office: 305-815-4855
janice@flashresolutions.com