ALEXANDRIA, Va.— A joint Congressional hearing delved into concerns raised by members of the recreational fishing community, as well as other stakeholders, about the National Park Service’s recent decision to close over 10,000 acres of Biscayne National Park to recreational fishing. The hearing entitled, “Restricted Access at Biscayne National Park and Implications for Fishermen, Small Businesses, the Local Economy and Environment” was held in Homestead, Fla., by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Small Business.
Two industry members of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) testified during the hearing – Carl Liederman, owner of Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply, and Scott Salyers, Fishing Group publisher for Bonnier Corporation. Well over 100 members of the public attended the hearing, many of which were recreational and commercial fishermen opposed to the marine reserve proposal in Biscayne National Park.
“While significant in terms of lost public access, closing this area will do nothing biologically to improve the overall fisheries conditions in the park,” said Liederman. “There is simply no good science to support it, as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission can attest here today. And that, coupled with the adverse economic impact this closure will bring to many of the marine related small businesses in south Florida, makes this closure a very bad idea.”
Throughout the development of the General Management Plan for Biscayne National Park, through which the marine reserve is being implemented, the recreational fishing community has continually expressed concerns over the insufficient scientific basis for the marine reserve. These concerns are shared by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which co-manages the park’s fisheries resources. Despite developing alternative management options that will achieve resource management goals while allowing for continued public access, the recreational fishing community’s recommendations were ignored by the National Park Service, which ultimately elected to close over 30 percent of the park’s reef tract to fishing.
“I believe that better educating users, combined with responsible management actions that allow for continued access, can be effective in restoring the parks fisheries and habitat if given the chance,” said Salyers. “We fishermen want sustainable fisheries for years to come. We want our children and their children to enjoy the same fishing experiences that we have.”
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), and 28 other original sponsors recently introduced H.R. 3310, that will help stop this and similar unwarranted fishing closures from occurring. The “Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act” requires the National Park Service and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to have approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before closing state waters to recreational or commercial fishing.
“There are many Congressional leaders to thank for holding this hearing to shine a light on this important issue, most notably Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), as well as the members of our Florida delegation who attended including Reps. Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, Curbelo and David Jolly (R-Fla.),” said Gary Jennings, manager of Keep Florida Fishing. “I also want to thank the dozens of recreational fishermen who showed up and helped to pack the room. This Biscayne closure is a clear sign that the recreational fishing community needs to be united together to support fisheries conservation and allow for continued access to fisheries resources – that’s what Keep Florida Fishing is all about.”