Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel MPA Article

Alexander Stone reefkeeper at earthlink.net
Thu May 31 09:24:31 EDT 2001

U.S. announces proposed no-fishing zones along Florida's east coast 

By David Fleshler

May 30, 2001

In a massive effort to restore ocean environments off the southeastern
United States, the federal government has released a list of dozens of
sites in which fishing and other activities may be sharply restricted.

The list names about a dozen sites on the east coast of Florida,
including popular fishing grounds off Islamorada, Fort Lauderdale and
West Palm Beach. These sites would be designated marine protected areas,
conservation zones in which human activities would be limited.

Certain to generate opposition, the proposal is intended to protect the
72 species of snapper and grouper -- big, long-lived reef fish that have
experienced sharp declines in the past several years. Having tried
traditional management methods, such as bag and size limits, fishery
managers now plan to designate certain areas as limited-fishing or
no-fishing zones. Several proposed sites also are intended to protect
other species or ecosystems, such as rare Oculina coral.

The list of potential protected areas was prepared for the South
Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which controls fishing up to 200
miles off the coast from Florida to North Carolina. The list includes
the Islamorada Hump, popular for amberjack and blackfin tuna; the area
of Biscayne National Park south of Fowey Rocks, a prime spot for
sailfish; and reefs off Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The list is highly tentative. It is the result of suggestions by the
public and an advisory panel of fishermen, scientists and
environmentalists. None of the proposed sites has been endorsed by the

But the list provides the framework for discussions, hearings and
analysis intended to produce a series of protected areas by the end of
next year. And now that specific sites are on the table, opposition is
likely to grow.

"It's vastly overkill," said Mike Leech, president of the International
Game Fish Association, based in Dania Beach. "It's an invasion of the
public's right to fish."

He said marine protected areas were a crude management tool that would
punish sportsmen who had nothing to do with the decline of grouper or
other species. To Leech, the single biggest menace to a sustainable fish
population is commercial fishing, with longlines, gill nets and other
gear that indiscriminately sweep fish from the ocean.

"If they're worried about snapper, then close the areas during spawning
time," he said. "Don't make it a no-take zone for everybody and

But John Jolley, president of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, said
that a network of protected areas may turn out to be the right way to
restore depleted fisheries.

"I think it's probably a useful tool," he said. "We hate to see more
regulation. But there are always more people and more fishing.
Hopefully, it won't shut everything down. It might be an interesting
concept to try for a few years and see what happens."

At Bud and Mary's marina in Islamorada, owner Richard Stanczyk worried
about what the restrictions could do to his business and to the 45
charter captains who work out of his marina. But he said he understood
the need for the Islamorada Hump to be on the list, now that amberjack
has become a popular commercial fish.

"They've just been battered to no end," he said. "They're a rather
stupid fish, not a hard fish to catch. The technological advances, the
sophisticated depth-finders and radars, have put pressure on fish, and
amberjacks have suffered. If it were just the Hump, we could probably
live with that. I would sooner see it closed down than desecrate it to
the point where there were no fish. But if they close the whole reef, we
should all just pack up and leave."

The list also includes the reefs off Palm Beach County, where a lack of
restrictions has allowed fishing boats to cause great harm to the
ecosystem, said Robert Rowe, a recreational fisherman who serves on the
council's Marine Protected Area Advisory Panel.

"There are unique reefs there," he said. "Right now you have boats
anchoring and bottom fishing and tearing the reefs up."

And it includes the area along the south jetty of the Lake Worth inlet,
where fishermen have learned to wait for the cold-weather arrival of gag

"Boats are there day and night, wanting to get the last grouper," Rowe
said. "About 200 will congregate, and they'll all get caught."

This area is in state-controlled waters, although it is on the list
released this week. Several sites on the list are actually in state, not
federal, waters. In these cases, the council could only request that
state officials designate them as protected areas.

David White, regional director of the Center for Marine Conservation,
which has strongly supported the council's plans, said the ideal result
would be a network of restricted areas that would protect a variety of
marine environments.

"We need some near shore, some off shore, some in deep water, some in
shallow water," he said. "We need to make sure that all types of habitat
-- sea grasses, coral reefs, hard bottom -- are represented, and that
they're large enough to adequately enforce."

While it has been known for months that the council was exploring the
idea of marine protected areas, the release of a list of specific sites
is likely to sharpen the debate.

The actual designation of protected areas will take more than a year.
The council's advisory committee on marine protected areas will meet to
discuss them June 21 in St. Augustine. The council will select certain
areas for further analysis, reviewing the scientific, economic and
social issues of each area.

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler at sun-sentinel.com or

Copyright (c) 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel 

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