Anchor Restrictions, Away

Spring is a busy time for anglers and boaters in Florida – and not just because the fishing is good.

Photo courtesy NOAA.gov

Photo courtesy NOAA.gov

March through early May is when the Florida legislature is in session, and there is no telling what type of misguided, misinformed and just plain bad bills and amendments might be introduced in Tallahassee.

The 2014 legislative session, which ended May 2, had some tense moments, but everything turned out OK.

The Boat Owners Association of the United States lobbied against two last-minute amendments that would have derailed a statewide effort to develop consistent and rational anchoring options for boaters and severely impacted anchoring in Florida waters.

Attempts were made to add the amendments to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bills in the Senate and House. Had they been approved, they would have affected anchoring in South Florida waters, established a precedent for the rest of the state and likely resulted in a patchwork of anchoring restrictions that would have exposed boaters and legitimate cruisers to citations and fines.

The amendments also would have ignored an ongoing FWC anchoring pilot program whose goal is provide more uniform and fair anchoring regulations statewide.

The amendments to the FWC Senate and House bills were introduced by Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who is the Senate minority leader and routinely against anything that would make boating, fishing and hunting better in Florida, and Rep. Eddy Gonzalez of Miami Springs.

Those amendments would have given Florida counties control over the restriction of anchoring throughout their jurisdictions.

BoatUS stirred up a groundswell of boater support that generated more than 5,800 comments to legislators urging the Senate and House to defeat passage of the amendments. The FWC bills passed “clean,” with no anti-anchoring amendments.

“Our Florida members answered our call to weigh in and let legislators know the impact of the proposed legislative changes,” said BoatUS Government Affairs Senior Program Coordinator David Kennedy. “Florida legislators responded and soundly defeated the proposals.”

All is safe for now, but Florida boaters, along with others who enjoy the state’s woods and waters, have to remain on guard for the next attempt to hijack their rights.

“BoatUS is on watch,” said Kennedy, who has led the fight against bad boating legislation throughout the country. “We know from experience that this will happen again. It’s just a question of time and in which statehouse will someone else decide boaters don’t matter.”

Anglers also must remain on the lookout for legislation that would hijack their rights.

In recent years, there have been attempts in the legislature by politicians from coastal districts with a strong commercial fishing presence to overturn or find a loophole in the state’s constitutional net ban. The Coastal Conservation Association successfully led the fight to shoot down that legislation.

There have also been efforts to take away the FWC’s constitutional authority to manage fish and wildlife and give the legislature control over setting seasons, bag limits and the like.

Thanks to the outcry from sportsmen, those efforts were short-lived, but there will no doubt be another attempt some day by some political hack to take control of Florida’s natural resources for the benefit of a few.

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Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn't long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

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