Florida Bay reopens after 16 days

The partial federal government shutdown that was felt strongly in the Keys by professional backcountry fishing guides is over after 16 days.

The U.S. Senate voted 81 to 18 Wednesday night to put all federal employees back to work and to raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. The Republican-led House approved the bill by a 285-144 vote. President Barack Obama signed the bill late Wednesday night.

The vote is considered by congressional observers as a defeat for Republicans. The shutdown was the result of a standoff between the more conservative GOP wing of Congress and the Obama administration over funding the president’s signature healthcare law.

But the semantics, bickering and horse trading of congressional politics means little to Keys flats guides who were basically put out of work because of the shutdown. All national parks were closed since Oct. 1, and this meant Florida Bay was off limits because it is part of the Everglades National Park.

“Hallelujah,” said Capt. Mike Makowski, owner of Blackfoot Charters. “It’ll be nice to be able to fish the park again.

Dan Kimball, superintendent of the Everglades National Park, said upon the president’s signature and notification from the regional office, areas, including the Florida Bay, that are not dependent on the reopening of facilities or the return of furloughed staff, are reopened.

Because of enabling legislation that created Biscayne National Park, Biscayne Bay was never closed to fishing. Biscayne Bay can be only be closed to fishing for conservation reasons, according to two citations in the enabling language provided by Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of Biscayne National Park.

Both the 1968 law creating Biscayne National Monument and the 1980 language redesignating it as Biscayne National Park say the bay “shall continue to be open to fishing in conformity with the laws of the State of Florida…”

Biscayne National Park is about 22 miles long. Its northern boundary is near Key Biscayne, and the park runs south to almost Key Largo. Ninety-five percent of the almost-80,000-acre park is water.

Although he’s happy he can fish in Florida Bay again, and more importantly, bring back paying clients into the bay, Makowski said he is angry at lawmakers for putting people’s livelihoods at stake just to gain political ground.

“It’s amazing that it took this long to get the park open,” he said. “I cant believe it took this long to get to this point.”

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