More input wanted on marine management changes

After hitting rough water recently, advisers to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary this week try again to explain suggestions for new marine-life protected areas at sea.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion about what’s being recommended and who recommended it,” sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton said Tuesday.

Beginning Monday, members of the Sanctuary Advisory Council and its Ecosystem Protection working group hold a four-program series of evening meetings to “facilitate information exchange and solicit region and site-specific input” from interested residents.

“This will be more informal than an actual meeting with an agenda,” Morton said. “More of a roundtable format where people can talk and ask questions.”

“There is a lot of misinformation about this being a done deal,” he said. “It’s still very early in the process — at the beginning, really.”

As part of the first major update to its management plan since 1997, the Keys sanctuary will consider changing existing marine protected areas or adding new ones.

A slate of changes suggested by advisers — including proposals for new no-take areas, large and small — generated strong opposition from people in the commercial-fishing industry and sportfishing business at meetings in late July and August.

“They’re overreaching and getting into fishery management, which is an area they should not be,” said Key West charter captain Bill Wickers, a former sanctuary adviser. “They’re trying to say it’s not fishery management but when they take enormous swaths of ocean and say you can’t fish there, that the ultimate in fishery management,” Wickers said.

Morton said any recommendations from the Ecosystem Protection working group will be reviewed and amended by the full Sanctuary Advisory Council.

Federal and state officials then draft a series of alternatives which lead to a detailed socio-economic impact statement.

Regional input meetings this week in Key Colony Beach, Key Largo and Key West focus on the advisory group’s proposals for nearby waters.

Meetings open at 5 p.m., with an outline of the regulatory review process, followed by an hour of roundtable talk. The process will be repeated at 6:30 p.m.

The Monday meeting will be held at Key Colony Beach City Hall, followed by a Tuesday session at the Key Largo Hilton, mile marker 97 bayside.

Two meetings will be held at the DoubleTree Grand Key Resort in Key West, on Sept. 25 and 26. The Sept. 25 session looks at Lower Keys water, while proposals for the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas will be discussed Sept. 26.

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