Keys session focuses on Florida Bay rules

Everglades National Park managers can expect to hear a lot on March 20 about a proposal to protect the shallows of Florida Bay.

National Park Service staff opens its first Florida Keys comment session on recommended changes to its Everglades management plan at 5:30 at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier.

The preferred alternative plan says that “extremely shallow areas” covering about a third of Florida Bay “would be managed as pole-and-troll (non-combustion engine use) zones while still providing traditional access and use through the channels and deeper basins.”

Several Upper Keys fishing guides worry that could place popular areas off limits and close well-known channels through the flats.

“We’re pretty much concerned with everything in there” about Florida Bay, Key Largo Fishing Guides Association president Kerry Wingo said Tuesday.

The Key Largo guides group was working with other fishing groups to prepare a statement for today’s meeting.

“They want to keep everybody except kayakers and canoes out of Long Sound,” Wingo said of the sheltered water off the west side of U.S. 1 near the Miami-Dade County line.

“There’s a lot of deep water in there and that’s an area where a lot of Key Largo guides go for half-day trips,” Wingo said.

Some of the larger pole-and-troll zones limit feasible skiff access, he said. “There are some channels they want to close that we think should be left open.”

A prototype pole-or-troll area covering 9,400 acres in Snake Bight near Flamingo was designated in early 2011.

“Careful examination of damage and threats to natural and submerged wilderness features, and patterns of visitor use, pointed to the need for a new strategy,” Park Superintendent Dan Kimball said in a statement. “I’m confident that over time, we can effectively implement these strategies and see benefits to resources and visitor experience in the park.”

Wingo said, “If they limit access to the pole-and-troll zones, that could concentrate boat traffic in other areas, causing congestion and possible more damage.”

The March 20 session and an April 10 event at Key Largo’s Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center will start with time for visitors to examine materials. An overview presentation will be made by park staff, followed by a comment session.

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