Located adjacent to Miami in Biscayne Bay, Biscayne National Park (BNP) is the largest marine park in the National Park system. In June 2015, BNP officials finalized an update of the park's General Management Plan (GMP), which was last updated in 1983. Park officials approved a no-fishing marine reserve in more than 10,000 acres of the park’s most popular and productive fishing area. This decision runs counter to the recommendations from stakeholders, BNP’s own working group and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
During the 114th Congress, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to prevent the Biscayne marine reserve from going into effect and force NPS to work with FWC on a more reasonable and science-based plan. This legislation was included as part of the Sportsmen’s Act, which unfortunately was not enacted. During the current 115th Congress, HR 3668 (SHARE ACT) contains similar language and has passed out of committee and is awaiting floor action. There is no version in the Senate at this time.
Biscayne National Park has a new superintendent, Margaret Goodro, who most recently was the superintendent at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. ASA and NMMA met with Ms. Goodro earlier this year and were pleased with the discussion related to “pausing” implementation of the marine reserve and reengaging with the state and stakeholders on a more balanced plan. Based on similar discussions with members of the Florida delegation who have been active on this issue, ASA intends to see what progress the new superintendent might be able to make in resolving this issue before pursuing the legislative remedy again.
The Park is currently working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on a Science Plan to determine the best course forward. An update is expected this year.
ASA and others in the recreational fishing and boating community have strongly advocated that marine reserves should only be used after conventional and less restrictive fishery management measures have failed, and that insufficient enforcement of current regulations is the biggest problem facing the park’s resources.
While intensive fishing pressure in BNP is clearly an issue that must be addressed in the new GMP, marine reserves are just one tool among the suite of resources available for effective fisheries management, and should be considered only after alternative strategies (e.g., size limits, bag limits, quotas and gear restrictions) have proven ineffective.
The new GMP should address overfishing in BNP while still allowing for public access to public resources via recreational fishing. Given the widespread distribution of recreational fishing that occurs throughout BNP, any marine reserve of significant size would inevitably shut anglers out of favorite fishing areas, keeping anglers off the water, out of the park and diminishing the economic benefit of sportfishing to the local economy.
This concept is also supported by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between BNP and the FWC, which also manages fisheries resources in the park. The memorandum says:
“The FWC and the park agree to seek the least restrictive management actions necessary to fully achieve mutual management goals for the fishery resources of the park and adjoining areas. Furthermore, both parties recognize the FWC’s belief that marine reserves (no-take areas) are overly restrictive and that less-restrictive management measures should be implemented during the duration of this MOU.”
ASA urges the Park Service to work cooperatively with the FWC – which believes there are other, less restrictive options that can meet management goals besides a marine reserve – and stakeholders to develop a plan that balances resource conservation with public access.
In August 2011, park managers released a draft GMP for public comment. The draft GMP preferred alternative, endorsed by park managers, will establish a 16 square mile marine reserve, or no fishing zone. The GMP also considers the use of no-motor zones and an exclusive access-by-permit only area in shallow waters north of Black Point. The full draft GMP can be viewed here.
Controversy surrounding the onerous closures proposed in the draft GMP has prompted Congressional attention. In April 2012, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held an oversight hearing regarding access issues on public lands, including at Biscayne National Park. In addition, members of the Florida delegation, including Senators Nelson and Rubio, have sent letters expressing concern with the potential negative impacts that the proposed closures in BNP can have on anglers and recreational fishing-dependent businesses.
In the summer of 2012, the National Park Service and the FWC agreed to reengage in a collaborative manner in the General Management Plan development process. The American Sportfishing Association is hopeful that discussions will result in a management plan that balances resource conservation with public access including adequate areas for fishing.
In November 2013, the National Park Service announced a supplemental GMP for BNP. The new preferred alternative, Alternative 6, eliminates a 10,000 acre marine reserve, and instead would establish a 14,585 acre special recreation zone along a portion of the park’s reef tract in which fishing would be allowed year round with a special permit to be administered by the FWC. An additional alternative, Alternative 7, would remove the permit aspect of the special recreation zone and instead implement a summer closure with recreational fishing allowed the remainder of the year. ASA and its boating and angling partners mobilized fishermen and industry members to oppose the marine reserve.
On June 5, 2015, the National Park Service announced its final GMP. Despite commitments made by BNP officials to work with stakeholders and the state of Florida to explore less restrictive options, the GMP included a marine reserve, eliminating fishing and severely restricting boating in over 10,000 acres of the park’s most popular and productive marine waters.
For several years, a large coalition of partners in the recreational boating and fishing community has submitted comments, attended public meetings and organized discussions with the leadership at the National Park Service in an attempt to balance the critical need for conservation with the need for recreational access to the park’s waters.
Numerous fisheries management measures were presented to the National Park Service that would balance resource conservation with maintaining public access, including size limits, bag limits, quotas, permits, seasonal closures and gear restrictions. To read the most recent public comments submitted by the recreational boating and fishing community to the National Park Service on this issue, click here.
A joint Congressional hearing was held on August 3, 2015, to delve into concerns raised by members of the recreational fishing community, as well as other stakeholders, about the National Park Service’s decision. 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. 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 BNP.
Congressional leaders are also confronting the closure through legislative means. 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. H.R. 3310 is included in the Sportsmen’s Package in the House.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to safeguard states’ authority to regulate fishing in their waters. Under the bill, the National Park Service would need approval from state fish and wildlife agencies before implementing closures to recreational or commercial fishing in state marine waters. S. 2807, the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act, was prompted by a National Park Service decision to eliminate fishing and severely restrict boating in more than 10,000 acres of Biscayne Bay National Park. A different Senate bill containing a provision to prevent unnecessary fishing closures in Biscayne National Park was approved on June 29 by the Senate Commerce Committee. S. 3099, The Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016, championed by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
ASA is hopeful the new superintendent of Biscayne National Park continues to keep the dialogue open with the sportfishing and boating community as future decisions are made. ASA will continue to support legislation proposed to offer a permanent fix for this issue as well.