Biscayne National Park has dropped a controversial proposal to ban fishing across nearly 16 square miles of coral reef, after vigorous opposition from anglers and members of Congress.
The park, which encompasses southern Biscayne Bay, had proposed a no-fishing zone to help coral reefs recover from decades of heavy fishing that had devastated snapper, grouper, lobster and other creatures that make their homes in the park's shallow, sunny waters.
The decision to drop the ban proposal was made public after a meeting earlier this month between representatives of the park and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state agency that regulates hunting and fishing and that has usually opposed no-fishing zones as an infringement on the rights of the public.
Brian Carlstrom, the park's superintendent, said the new plan will be released in detail in a few months. But in general, he said it would use such tools as restrictions on the catch of certain species and limits on the number of anglers, rather than an outright ban.
"It's not going to restrict fishing altogether," he said. "But it's going to change how it's done to give the reef a better chance to recover."
Currently, he said the abundance of wildlife on the reef was far below what you'd expect in a national park.
"Right now, the chances of seeing a grouper are pretty slim," he said.
Fishing groups applauded the park's decision, saying a ban would have been an extreme step that should not be taken when less severe methods are available.
"We were pleased to see the Park Service take a step back and begin working with the FWC on this," said Mike Leonard, ocean resource policy director for the American Sportfishing Association, the trade association for the recreational fishing industry. "We don't believe it's appropriate for fishery managers to close off an area from the public without trying every other tool first."
The National Parks Conservation Association expressed disappointment.
"The coral reef habitat and the fishing at Biscayne National Park have degraded significantly over the last several decades," said Kahlil Kettering, Biscayne Restoration Program Analyst for the association. "We would be dismayed to learn that the marine reserve plan is no longer on the table. We think it's an effective method for protecting the coral reef habitat and the fishery, and we urge the park to keep it on the table."
The 270-square-mile park was assembled in steps beginning in 1968, with Congress designating it a national park in 1980. The park is unique in that 95 percent of it is on water, encompassing sea grass beds, islands and coral reefs.
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