Overview of the Issue

An extensive coral disease outbreak began affecting the area in 2014 and continues to spread more rapidly northward from Miami-Dade County but has also moved southward into the southern Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico. The cause and method of transmission are unknown, and in some areas 80% of the reef is impacted. The disease is 100% fatal for affected corals.

Our Florida Reefs (OFR) was a community-based planning process in southeast Florida sponsored by the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI), supported by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and facilitated by NOAA. The group officially dissolved after finalizing its management recommendations for the coral reef tract ranging from Key Biscayne, northward to Stuart in June 2016. Among the recommendations were the creation of no-take fishing zones for 20-30 percent of the area and the nomination of the entire area as a National Marine Sanctuary. However, these recommendations had no justifiable scientific basis and were in direct opposition to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

A final OFR report was issued in May 2018. ASA and Keep Florida Fishing (KFF) worked closely with DEP to ensure the content focused on the OFR process rather than the closure recommendations. Many of the former OFR members continue their involvement in the issue as the members of SEFCRI.

What ASA is Doing

KFF worked with DEP and the Legislature to secure state funding in the state budget for treatment of the outbreak, restoration strategies, and increased resiliency. ASA continues to work on ways to improve the overall focus of the coral program in the agency and encourage a multi-agency approach to addressing the issue.

ASA worked with organizers to populate the UF/DEP Coral Reef Fishing Stakeholder Committee with relevant fisheries-related stakeholders including ASA’s Keep Florida Fishing Director, Gary Jennings. The Committee’s purpose was to “harness the capacity of the fishing community (fishing stakeholders and industry) to advance conservation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area (ECA).” The committee recently developed recommendations for consideration by state agencies, including DEP and FWC.  Many recommendations from the group focused on the need to improve water quality.  Gary Jennings now serves on the SEFCRI Team as the recreational fishing representative.

At the federal level, ASA has advocated for reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Program to address the urgent needs of our coral reefs.  In August 2019, Senators Rubio, Schatz, Scott and Hirono and Reps Soto and Gonzalez-Colon introduced the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act. The bill was included in the fiscal year 2023 annual defense bill, reauthorizing the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, strengthening NOAA’s coral program and providing tools for coral reef conservation, restoration, and management.

What You Can Do

Learn how you can get involved with the issues that affect our industry.

For more information, contact ASA Southeast Fisheries Policy Director Martha Guyas.

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