The Florida Keys Sanctuary Advisory Council has started work on a new program that would reward charter fishing boat captains for practicing sustainable fishing and conservation. During its most recent meeting at the Ocean Reef Club, the council agreed to form a roughly 12-member working group to come up with the structure and the guiding principals for the program, which would be voluntary. The council named Lower Keys guide Capt. Will Benson as chair of the working group.
Members will be selected to the group, which will hold roughly five public meetings throughout the Keys starting early next year. “The goal is to promote ethical guidelines and bring an increased awareness to the issues,” Benson said. The sanctuary started a similar program for dive boat operators in 2009 called Blue Star. There are roughly 20 local dive businesses participating in that program, which recognizes dive and snorkel operators working to protect the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem by promoting responsible diving and snorkeling practices and educating their clients about the impact human interactions can have on the marine environment.
Blue Star operators are required to attend training annually on issues affecting coral reefs, sanctuary regulations and coral reef etiquette — and, in turn, educate their customers by incorporating the information into certification classes and dive briefings. Blue Star operators are given a decal to put on their boat and are promoted on the sanctuary’s website and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council’s website. The idea of expanding that type of program to charter fishermen was brought to the Sanctuary Advisory Council by local captains and the Key West Charter Boat Association. “We want to make our clients more aware of how special our ecosystem is and what the issues are,” said Key West Capt. Brice Barr, chair of the board of the Key West Charter Boat Association. “We already tell them verbally but we would like to be able to give them pamphlets or literature.”