Editor, Key West Citizen
Gwen Filosa’s piece on the Chamber of Commerce fighting an expansion of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s powers is way off-base.
Firstly, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is not expanding its powers.
It is in fact, acting well within its existing and established parameters to protect a valuable — and threatened — international treasure consisting of unique habitat, unparalleled biodiversity and cultural resources dating back to well before the days of Christopher Columbus.
Two years ago — with that goal in mind — members of the Sanctuary Advisory Council (consisting of stakeholder representatives from the recreational and commercial fishing, diving, scientific, tourism and residential communities) began revisiting the Sanctuary's current management plan and zoning to develop new ideas for protecting our unique resource.
This re-examination isn't unique to the FKNMS; each National Marine Sanctuary must go through the same process by law every five years. National Fish and Wildlife also has similar requirements. Although reviews have been conducted previously, this is the first comprehensive review sine FKNMS was founded and that looked at zoning and regulations.
The basis for this reboot of the existing management plan is not based in some over-reaching Government conspiracy. It is based on the science contained within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report released in 2011, which examines the status of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s water quality, habitats, marine life and cultural resources. It also outlines the various threats to resource health, and highlights possible management actions taken to address those pressures. The status of sanctuary resources are rated on a scale from "good" to "poor," and are assigned a trend based on scientifically observed changes over time.
The fact is, we've done a horrible job of managing this resource and protecting it from internal impacts such as water quality (stagnant canals, lack of central sewer, stormwater runoff, cruise ships), overfishing (poaching, damage related to the illegal casitas) and over exploitation (dumping thousands of people into the same areas of the reef tract 340-plus days a year, thousands of jet ski hours per day on guided and non-guided tours.)
A majority of these activities are exactly what the Key West Chamber of Commerce wants to continue to promote. The fact of the matter is, they're not compatible with responsible stewardship of a fragile environmental resource that is quite frankly hanging on by an ever more precarious thread.
With regards to comments by Capt. Gomez, the FKNMS is not involving itself in fisheries management; although I do not agree with a proposed permanent closure of the Western Dry Rocks feature, this area is unique and needs to be protected. Any resulting action with regards to Western is the protection of a unique geographical profile occurring in only a few places in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Basin that serves as critical spawning habitat for a wide range of species including invertebrates critical to the health and survival of our coral reefs -- not just commercially- and recreationally-important finfish aka mutton snapper.
In short, it's habitat protection -- like seagrass meadows and mangrove stands -- not fisheries regulation.
Whether or not the Honorable Mr. Rossi was in favor of the formation of the FKNMS or not is irrelevant. It is here and it is here to stay.
With regards to Commissioner Yaniz' statements, no one on the FKNMS had anything to do with banning the harvest of conch or jewfish; in fact those moratoriums were enacted prior to the existence of the FKNMS by fisheries managers based on -- you guessed it -- science. And if you read the science on nearshore water quality in the FKNMS Condition Report, you'll think twice about eating them.
Lastly, if anybody deserves credit for forcing residents and visitors fish in the mud, look no further than the Key West City Commission and the Key West Chamber of Commerce's pro-cruise ship PAC.
Einstein said "What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right." We need to start making decisions based on what's best for the resource and not what's best for the bottom line.
Capt. Ted Lund
Charter/Flats Fishing Representative
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council