‘Glades National Park signals compromise on bay boating

A final plan for managing Florida Bay waters will change from the National Park Services preferred alternative now being publicly reviewed, Everglades National Park’s superintendent said Wednesday.

“We will take the good ideas and incorporate them into the plan,” Superintendent Dan Kimball told a large crowd at a Key Largo comment session. “We are listening and learning.”

Nearly 20 speakers voiced many of the same concerns raised at previous sessions on Florida Bay rules, namely that recommended Florida Bay rule changes would seriously hinder Keys recreational anglers and professional fishing guides.

As proposed, an updated management plan would declare about a third of the park’s Florida Bay water — more than 131,000 shallow acres — as pole-and-troll zones where combustion motors could not be used. Navigation would be limited to push poles or electric trolling motors.

Many shallow areas less than 2 feet deep at low tide already show the signs of propeller scars that damage seagrass, park staff said.

Steve Friedman of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association said Wednesday that the group “has repeatedly expressed strong concerns about certain aspects” of the plan.

Those include large some pole-and-troll zones that would require more than half a mile of no-motor navigation, the closing of several channels and traditional routes well-known to experienced bay anglers, and a no-motor designation for Long Sound, a favorite area for many Key Largo guides.

Some areas that can be traveled in 25 minutes by a flats skiff at idle speed would need three hours to cross by push paddle, Key Largo guide Richard Brown said.

“You’ve got to bend some and you’re not bending,” guide Gary Mitchell told park staff. “The people doing the damage are not us…. We don’t hurt the park but your plan hurts us more than anybody else.”

Kimball said assertions that the plan would be adopted as presented were “not true.”

“We are prepared to meet with guides and individuals, and get with them on the water,” he said.

Proposals to replace some pole-or-troll zones with idle-speed zones may have merit, Kimball said. He said staff would then look at the plan and “circle back” to meet with boaters and guides local residents informally.

Budget constraints will mean that any rules recommended in the plan could take “a long time … maybe years” to implement, Kimball said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to be.”

Additional workshops on the park plan are scheduled:

  • 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Monroe County Government Center.

  • 6 p.m. Wednesday at the National Marine Sanctuary Eco-Discovery Center in Key West.

    Clarification

    Key Largo guide Dave Perkins said a March 23 story truncated his remarks in a way that could be misleading.

    Perkins’ statement was: “The guides are not the ones screwing stuff up. We love the park. Even if you could find one who didn’t care about it, he wouldn’t want to gunk up his engine.”

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