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2 Opinions on the State of Our Florida Keys Fisheries

A. was taken in 1957. B. taken in 1958. C & D between 1965 and 1979.

There has been a long ongoing debate about the availability of various seafood populations in all of Florida and the Florida Keys. There are several groups (they now call these groups “stake holders”) that have different opinions on how these populations are doing. Commercial Fishermen rely on plentiful catches and a thriving market with high prices. Recreational Fishermen are sort of split into 2 more groups, those with their own boats and those that use Charter Captains to fish. Another group are Conservationists who may or may not actually fish but are concerned with the environment and how wildlife are doing. All of this affects the local economy directly through income from Commercial fish sales, Charter Businesses and Tourism.

And then we have the Regulation makers which include local, State and Federal organizations that try to make sure that various types of seafood aren’t kept in plentiful supply. As with any similar groups of stake holders and regulators there will never be complete agreement. Someone once said compromise never makes either side happy since both sides wanted more.

Following are 2 different opinions on the current state of our Florida Keys fisheries. One from the Commercial Fishing side and one from the other side. IMHO it is better to over protect than under protect.

Despite doom and gloom, our fisheries are fine

Evidently the special-interest Lloyd Brown refers to in his letter about the Biscayne National Park general management plan just happens to be some of the finest commercial fishermen, fish houses and bluewater and backcountry fishing guides in the world.
All of them have been harvesting sustainably in the park for decades either supplying millions of consumers with fresh seafood worldwide or treating tens of thousands of visitors to catch and release on virtually all of Florida’s most exciting and sought after game fish.

Fifteen years in the making, the general management plan is fraught with problems and both the National Park Service and Biscayne National Park officials have been less than transparent in developing the plan. Advisory working groups have not met for more than 12 years, science utilization has been labeled as inappropriately applied and both the financial and sociological impacts have been downplayed as minimal.

The plan is so troubling that U.S. representatives Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called for a House Natural Resources Committee and Small Business Administration field hearing that took place on Aug. 3 in Homestead. Nine witnesses representing a cross section of user groups testified before Chairman Rob Bishop and five other congressional representatives during the 3.5-hour hearing during which Jessica McCawley of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission withdrew state support for the plan.

Capt. Jimbo Thomas of Miami questioned park science, citing their catch-per-unit-of-effort figures that insult the intelligence, e.g., 6.7 hours to catch a white grunt, 73.7 hours to catch a cero mackerel and 702.7 hours to catch a black grouper.

Capt. Ernie Piton voiced concern about a plan that would phase out commercial fishing and send an estimated 50,000 lobster/stone crab traps south into the Florida Keys.

For the record, Biscayne National Park, South Florida and the Keys do not have a fishing problem. Every single key indicator species in all three areas including yellowtail and mutton snapper and black, red and gag grouper have had formal, state/federal stock assessments in the past three to five years and all of them have been rated as good to excellent. During the same period, commercial harvest of spiny lobster has provided some of the highest yields in the history of the fishery.

Much of the damage to corals occurred due to the El Nino of 1997-98 and the extreme cold snap of 2010. For good measure, you can throw in poor water quality, unregulated diver impacts and a serious lack of law enforcement with just three on-the-water officers to patrol 173,000 acres abutting the eighth largest metropolis in the nation.

Bill Kelly, executive director Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association

Exports of Keys fish should be banned.

I read with great amusement the bald-faced denial that Florida fisheries are troubled and suffering greatly. Of course, one would expect to hear that from Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, since Mr. Kelly and countless others make their living plundering the Keys waters for profit.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kelly, we have facts, photographs and hard truths to combat the lies told by Mr. Kelly and other Keys fisheries profiteers. The scientific data is readily available to anyone who cares to Google the matter. In fact, some very clever research by Loren McClenachan and Mr. Jeremy Jackson at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography unearthed a huge amount of historical data that’s readily available to anyone in thousands of photographs.

Thanks to the unending desire to photograph their catch, fishermen and countless charter boat captains have neatly cataloged an inescapable, undeniable trove of evidence over the past several decades to prove today’s catch is generally 50 percent smaller than the same fish caught during the 1960s and 1970s. Will all these fish be another 50 percent smaller in a few decades? The evidence says yes. Who wants a fully grown 8-inch snapper?

Using historical photos taken in Key West from 1956 to 2007, McClenachan studied the mean individual size and species composition for 13 groups of recreationally caught trophy reef fish. We’ve all seen the photos on restaurant walls depicting mangrove snapper, grouper, yellowtail and mahi-mahi — the fish used to be huge compared to today’s half-size catch. This degraded size matters little to commercial fishermen since they sell their catch by the pound.

How can you ignore this in-your-face evidence? You can’t. But we can do one of two things: Turn away in denial and tell your grandchildren that all these fish were always little bitty fish, or wake up and ban all export fishing from the Keys waters immediately. We don’t want to hurt our charter fishing industry, so leave the charter boats and simply ban commercial fishermen from taking our shrinking wildlife supply and selling it to China for their own profits. Keys tourism does not revolve around exporting our fish anyway.

Unfortunately, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is not only complicit in this plundering, it enable it by giving voice to the very people who profit from plundering our waters. We need to take action now to save our fish from shrinking in size and quantity. I urge everyone to call their senators and say stop the seafood exports from the Florida Keys.

Beau Bennett

Source: Letters | KeysNet

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