Should fishing be banned in Biscayne National Park?

Biscayne Bay National Park - click for larger version - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Biscayne Bay National Park – click for larger version – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The future of Biscayne National Park was in the news last week, and, as usual, park managers and environmental activists say fishing has to be dramatically curtailed.

The park has proposed significant changes: phasing out commercial fishing, ending the annual two-day lobster mini season that occurs in July, banning spearfishing with scuba gear, and imposing increased size limits on fish already managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The park, which stretches from Miami to North Key Largo, has been working on a fishery management plan and a general management plan since 2000. It is currently working under a GMP that was implemented in 1983. The park has to work with the FWC because the state agency has the authority to regulate fishing and similar activities in the park (although the Department of the Interior can prohibit fishing for conservation reasons).

Biscayne National Park gets at least 500,000 visitors per year. The National Park Service isn’t exactly sure how many people visit, since the park can be accessed by boat from outside the park’s headquarters in Homestead. Visitors include divers and snorkelers who come to see coral reefs, catch lobster and spear fish; kayakers who paddle the shallows near park headquarters; recreational boaters who pull up on sand bars and party; flats guides and anglers who target bonefish, tarpon and permit; offshore anglers who seek snapper and grouper; and commercial hook and line anglers, shrimp trawlers, stone crab and lobster trappers and ballyhoo netters.

In its early versions of the FMP, the park wanted to protect fish and corals by establishing marine reserves, or no-fishing zones, but the FWC has been opposed and prefers that less restrictive measures be implemented first to see how they work. The park’s goal is to increase the abundance and size of the park’s fish and lobsters by 20 percent, although some critics wonder how the park’s numbers can be down when populations outside the park are in good shape. To achieve that, the FMP would not allow spear fishers to use scuba gear or spear guns with trigger mechanisms; eliminate the lobster mini season to prevent damage to corals by divers; phase out commercial fishing by taking away special-use permits from those who don’t use them; create trap-free and no-trawl zones; and modify bag and size limits and seasons for certain fish species.

“We recognize that this is a significant change to existing conditions and any time you’re doing that, regardless of the topic, you’re going to get resistance. It’s just human,” Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom told the Miami Herald.

The fishery plan should take at least a year to finalize, including holding public hearings, but it continues to receive heavy criticism from most anglers. Plan supporters point out that thousands of people are in favor of no-fishing zones in the park, although many of them have never been to Biscayne National Park or live in Florida. Supporters also say that as a national park, it should be restrictive. After all, elk hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone National Park, so why should anglers be allowed to catch and keep lobsters, snappers and groupers?

The difference is that FWC was given control of the marine life in the park, and the state agency’s commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, want to allow recreational anglers to keep fishing.

South Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) was also critical of the fishery plan. “Like many in our community, my family loves to get out on the water,” she said in a statement. “All of us share a profound respect for this delicate resource and the need to protect it as much as we cherish it. But the park’s restrictive recommendations seemingly seek to eliminate the average individual and their family.

“There is certainly a balance that needs to be made between protecting our ecosystem and using it – sadly, this plan does not seem to lay out a reasonable compromise that meets that goal.”

Something else for park managers to consider: Since the park was created, the population of Miami-Dade County has more than doubled, which has resulted in more pollution and poorer water quality in the park. Stopping that pollution would likely help fish and lobsters more than simply stopping fishing.


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.

Posted in Conservation
Conservation Partners