April Wreck fishing

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Come fish with us down in the Keys
Captain Dana Banks
The War Bird - Fishing Charter Boat - Florida Keys Sportfishing
Saltwater Sportfishing for over 25 years in Key Largo
Key Largo, Florida

(305) 394-7420

http://www.keylargo-fishing.com
http://www.warbirdsportfishing.com/

Deep Sea Fishing - Reef Fishing - Wreck Fishing
Sailfish, Dolphin, Kingfish, Snapper, Grouper, Cobia, Tuna

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See the creatures of the Florida Keys

— Activities for visitors to the Florida Keys range from snorkeling, boating and fishing to bar-hopping in Key West at sunset.

You don’t even have to leave your car to enjoy the tranquil scenery of water and sky from the toll-free Florida Keys Overseas Highway, a series of bridges and roads connecting the 125-mile chain of islands. And while the Keys are not as well-known for beaches as other parts of Florida, a few spots – like lovely Sombrero Beach in Marathon – are worth a visit.

But wherever your wanderings through the Keys might take you, chances are you’ll encounter some of the islands’ many creatures on land, in the sea or flying overhead. Tarpon fish crowd the docks at waterfront restaurants, birds and tiny Key deer abound in nature preserves, and stingrays can be seen through glass-bottomed boats at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. And six-toed cats have the run of the place at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West.

 

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Sick Turtle Swims To Florida Keys’ Turtle Hospital

Healthwatch On CBSMiami

MARATHON (CBSMiami/FKNB) – An injured green sea turtle swam into the boat basin of the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys Thursday and was rescued.

The sub-adult reptile, weighing 46 pounds, was pulled from the water and moved to the hospital’s emergency room.

“Usually, patients come into the Turtle Hospital in the turtle ambulance,” said hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. “This patient seemingly checked himself in.”

Zirkelbach said the turtle, named Yertle for the Dr. Seuss “Yertle the Turtle” book, was entangled in fishing line and is missing its front left flipper. She surmised the missing flipper was severed by the line or self-amputated due to injuries caused by the line.

 

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How We Can Protect Real Estate for Fish

This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, director of U.S. oceans at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

For businesses dependent on high foot traffic, location is everything. It’s much the same out on the water, where finding the right spot can make all the difference for commercial and recreational fishermen alike.

Advances in technology make it easier to target fish more quickly, in deeper water, and more precisely than ever before. This puts new pressures on bottom-dwelling fish that congregate and reproduce only at certain ecological hot spots along the edge of the U.S. continental shelf.

But new technologies also allow us to better understand how marine ecosystems work, giving us the ability to map key spawning areas for marine life. Using these maps, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently proposed protections of places where two severely depleted deep-water species, speckled hind and warsaw grouper, live and spawn. An important next step comes in December, when council members are expected to settle on a list of potential marine protected areas that will be the subject of public hearings early next year.

A chart with information on warsaw grouper

At first glance, speckled hind and warsaw grouper wouldn’t seem to have much in common. The reddish-orange speckled hind, found in waters from North Carolina to the Florida Keys, gets its name from the tiny white spots that cover it from head to tail. Adults can grow to 43 inches and weigh as much as 66 pounds. The warsaw grouper, in contrast, is much bigger: It is one of the largest members of the grouper family. This solitary fish, found from Massachusetts to South America, can grow to eight feet and weigh more than 400 pounds.

Yet despite their distinct differences in appearance and range, these two species share two important ecological traits. They both congregate, feed and reproduce in deep, rocky offshore areas that can be popular fishing holes. And both species are slow to reach maturity and spawn. This combination makes them especially vulnerable to overfishing.

Rules limiting the catch of warsaw grouper and speckled hind have been in place since 1994, but unfortunately these fish tend to prefer habitat frequented by popular sport and commercial species. As fishermen pursue these more desirable fish, such as vermilion snapper and red porgy, they can accidentally catch the warsaw grouper and speckled hind. This is a problem known as bycatch.

A chart with information on speckled hind

Moreover, when speckled hind or warsaw grouper are unintentionally caught and quickly pulled to the surface, the rapid change in pressure often causes fatal internal injuries, even if they are immediately released. Such occurrences worsen an already dire situation for these two species.

Although the catch of speckled hind and warsaw grouper has been restricted for 20 years, researchers say the populations have plummeted in the Atlantic waters off the southern U.S., to 6 percent of healthy levels for warsaw grouper and 5 percent for speckled hind. Both species are listed as “Critically Endangered“ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and as “Species of Concern“ by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

To more effectively protect the primary locations where these species live and spawn, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is now considering how to redraw eight marine protected areas, roughly 785 square miles, along the edge of the continental shelf from North Carolina to Florida. The areas are currently off limits to deep-water fishing but only protect a small portion of the habitat these species need to recover. The council also is weighing creating new sites, totaling an additional 308 square miles, to protect these two bottom dwellers while benefiting other species, including red snapper and red grouper, that are recovering from decades of overfishing.

Fishermen have worked for ages to find the best spots to fish. New technologies have made the process easier, leaving fewer places for imperiled fish to hide. But these advances also provide an opportunity to improve conservation. If used wisely, new science and tools can help federal fisheries managers better protect the real estate that seriously depleted ocean fish populations, such as warsaw grouper and speckled hind, need to recover to healthy levels.

Learn more about how you can help these imperiled fish and the plan to save them.

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Keys county commissioners asked to support Sanctuary referendum

In November 1996, a nonbinding referendum calling for the dissolution of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary — created by Congress in 1990 following a series of ship groundings on the reef — passed by more than 50 percent of the vote. It came as a surprise to both opponents and supporters of the ballot initiative.

Seventeen years later, the editorial staff of a major Florida recreational fishing lifestyle magazine is calling for a similar question to be put to Keys voters.

Doug Kelly, contributing editor of Florida Sportsman Magazine, supports the idea and goals behind the Keys sanctuary, but says environmental and dive interests have taken things too far by seeking to restrict more areas from fishing.

The magazine sent a letter to the five-member Monroe County Commission asking them to support a referendum that asks voters to pass “a resolution halting or at least tabling for now additional areas closed to recreational fishing.”

The request is in reaction to a review being conducted by officials and stakeholders of existing regulations in preparation for a revised sanctuary management plan. 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.

This has commercial and recreational fishing interests worried.

A long list of changes suggested by the Sanctuary Advisory Council and its committees — 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.

The Keys economy depends on fishing revenue. Kelly said there is no need to make more places off limits to angling since existing catch, size and slot limits, as well as seasonal species closures, have helped maintain a healthy fishery.

“Many citizens in and out of the Keys are alarmed at the prospect of dozens of more closed-access areas being considered by the federal government for the” sanctuary, Florida Sportsman wrote to commissioners.
Karl Wickstrom, founder and editor in chief of Florida Sportsman, called no-take zones “a copout. They’re an easy way for a lot of managers who don’t know any better.”

“Good fisheries management is really easy,” Wickstrom said. “Eliminate large catches and treat everyone equally.”

Larger fish should not be taken, Wickstrom said, because they are needed to spawn younger generations.
The sanctuary is under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which itself is under the U.S. Commerce Department. Following the series of ship groundings, Congress created it in November 1990 to protect species and habitat living in the 2,800 nautical square miles surrounding all of the Keys.

Kelly said the sanctuary should continue to be concerned about the reef, which continues to decline in health, as well at the vital seagrass fields. Both are suffering even though fishing pressure has eased dramatically over the past three decades, Kelly said.

Most of the Keys fish species “are either in plentiful supply or recovering regionwide by catch limits under existing federal and state fisheries management plans,” Kelly said.

Rift with divers

Kelly calls it hypocritical that commercial and recreational anglers in the Keys have to steer clear of protected zones that are “crowded with dive boats.” Allowing diving in areas that are supposed to be protected from human impact “puts politics over conservation,” Kelly said.

Florida Sportsman sent the letter to the County Commission in late September, but two commissioners interviewed for this story said they had not seen it. Regardless, getting a voter initiative on the November ballot is an uphill battle, say even those who support the effort in principle.

Mayor Sylvia Murphy, who thinks some of the current recommendations made by environmental and dive interests on the advisory council go way too far, said the initiative doesn’t have a chance if it is nonbinding.
Ironically, this may be the fault of the last referendum on the issue. So many people supported it, but were disappointed when it didn’t carry any weight, Murphy said.

“Since that day, if you want to have a referendum, that’s the first thing they ask, ‘is it binding,’” Murphy said.
The 1996 referendum easily passed, even though federal government and environmental groups outspent supporters in campaign ads 10:1, Kelly said.

Even though Murphy doesn’t back another referendum, she said the sanctuary is taking too much of an anti-fishing stance, which she said could have severe implications on the Keys economy. She compared sanctuary managers to an old boss she had working in a drug store when she was younger.

“He was a great manager, but he didn’t want anyone shopping in the store because he didn’t want them messing up his shelves. That’s what the sanctuary has become,” Murphy said. “They want everyone to sit on the shore and admire the scenery. It’s really getting bad for the people who make a living out there. I would like to see it loosen up quite a bit.”

One of Murphy’s colleagues on the dais, Commissioner George Neugent, disagrees with her assessment of the sanctuary, but agrees there should not be a referendum. Neugent, who represents the Middle and Lower Keys and is a former member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council, said science, not emotion, should guide the council as it moves forward with revisions to the management plan. And he said it’s not the County Commission’s place to inject itself into the debate.

“I don’t know why the county would want to wade into that issue when the Sanctuary Advisory Council has representatives of all the stakeholder industries, including recreational and commercial fishing and recreational divers,” he said.

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Capt. Alan Sherman’s South Florida Fishing Report for Nov. 28, 2013

BEST BET

Tom Turowski from the Sebastian Inlet Bait and Tackle reported when the weather allows fishing off the Sebastian Inlet has been very good. Recently lots of black drum were being caught on clams and dead shrimp. Flounder to eight pounds are being caught in the inlet by anglers using finger mullet. Plenty of jacks and at times a lot of snook and redfish are being caught on mullet and shrimp. Also a few bluefish, large Spanish mackerel, sharks and tarpon have been available as well.

MIAMI DADE/BROWARD

Captain Jimbo Thomas on the charter boat Thomas Flyer out of Bayside Marina reported offshore fishing has been a challenge but if you mix it up there are quality fish to be caught off of Miami Beach. On recent trips his anglers have had black and gag grouper, mutton snappers, almoco jacks, schoolie dolphins, kingfish to 18 pounds and sailfish. Corey and Debbie Ho of New Jersey fished with captain Mo Estevez of New Dawn Charters in South Bay and caught and released a 10.5 pound bonefish and then landed a bunch of slot size sea trout using live shrimp and soft plastics for bait. Ron Dilbert of Hallandale fished aboard the Get Em with captain Alan Sherman in Biscayne Bay and caught over two dozen Spanish and small king mackerel, bluefish, jacks, bluerunners and a nine pound gag grouper. All of the fish were caught on live pilchards and Rapala X Raps. During the Wahoo Smackdown III Tournament held in Bimini Team Brizzio was the top team with a 51.6 pound wahoo and a total catch of 103.8 pounds of wahoo. Captain Edward Garcia guided the team to their win. Thirty boats and 175 anglers landed nearly 2000 pounds of wahoo during the tournament.

KEYS

Captain Tec Benbow of Skins and Fins Fishing Charters and Guides out of Islamorada reported Spanish mackerel fishing has taken off in the Gulf waters. Snook and redfish are biting in the channels and along the mangrove shorelines of Florida Bay and plenty of sea trout are available over the grass flats. Captain Bill Hauck on the party boat Sea king out of Marathon reported bottom fishing trips have produced some nice catches of red grouper recently and to take advantage of the grouper bite he is running a special trip this Saturday from 6 a.m. till 4 p.m. When offshore waters are not clear the flag yellowtail snapper bite has been good.

TREASURE COAST

Captain Glyn Austin of Going Coastal Fishing Charters out of Sebastian reported there continues to be a good tarpon bite along the offshore beaches. Schools of glass minnows and mullet are keeping the tarpon, little tunny, jacks and Spanish mackerel to his area. Flounder continue to be caught near shore on jigs and mud minnows. Snook and redfish are being caught in good numbers in the inlets.

FLORIDA BAY

Captain Bob LeMay reported fishing with artificial baits along the outside shorelines from Shark River north to produced only a few fish but when they switched to white baits the action got red hot. Fishing the live baits around creek mouths and mangrove tree lined shorelines on the outgoing tides produced multiple catches of redfish, snook and sea trout. They had redfish to 16 pounds, snook to 20 pounds and slot size sea trout.

SOUTHWEST COAST

Locals Russel Firtel, Michael Sherman, Drew Davis and Abie Raymond fished out of Chokoloskee for two days and caught over 200 fish. Some of the fifteen species they caught were Goliath and gag groupers, snook, cobia, pompano, redfish and a 22 pound kingfish that ate a live bluerunner fished under a kite. Captain Lisa Williams of Sea Gone fishing charters out of Fort Myers reported despite high winds the waters in her area are fairly clear. Fishing with free lined shrimp and shrimp on a jig plenty of trout can be found in the grassy areas. Sheepshead are biting in the channels and passes. Permits are eating free lined shrimp in the outside passes. Flounder to 18 inches are being caught over sandy bottoms. Snook and redfish continue to be landed on live baits fished around mangrove shorelines.

FRESHWATER

During two days of fishing the C-8, L-6 and L-36 canals George Verrusio of Indiana caught 24 peacock bass to five pounds, two snook, and 78 largemouth bass. He was casting floating and suspended Rapala plugs. His guide was Alan Zaremba.

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Larger fishing zone floated for Biscayne National Park

State fishery managers offered support for conservation goals in Biscayne National Park waters north of Key Largo — but intend to keep their voice heard on any fishing rule changes.

A move away from an initial proposal for a no-fishing area covering 16 square miles pleased board members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission when they met Thursday in Weston in Broward County.

Instead, the National Park Service and FWC staff are working on a new and larger Special Recreation Zone where a limited number of recreational anglers would be allowed under a system similar to quota-hunt permits.

“Some folks think this is too loose, some think it’s overly restrictive,” said FWC Vice Chairman Brian Yablonski. “We’re trying to hit the sweet spot with our stakeholders.”

“The whole key here is preservation of the resource while making sure there is sustainable access for the enjoyment of the people of Florida,” Commissioner Ron Bergeron said.

Commissioners made no public mention Thursday of allowing continued commercial fishing in Biscayne National Park’s newly proposed 23-square-mile recreational zone — except for surface net fishing for ballyhoo.

More restrictive rules create “noose tightening around commercial fishing,” Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Bill Kelly told the board in public comment. “This closure mentality has got to stop.”

Kelly said steps to prevent water pollution from Miami-Dade County would do far more to promote increased fish stocks than limiting commercial fishing.

An estimated 77 to 95 commercial fishermen use park waters annually for catches ranging from bait to food shrimp and lobster, FWC Marine Fisheries Director Jessica McCawley told the board.

Sportfishing groups including the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the American Sportfishing Association trade group said the organizations remain open to discussion on the proposed 500 recreational permits for the zone, but want to “iron out” specifics.

Those include the number of mooring buoys available inside the no-anchoring zone, the possibility of short-term permits for out-of-state visitors, and assurance that permits would not be wasted on people who do not use them.

The National Parks Conservation Association said rules allowing fishing in the zone were “inadequate to protect the coral-reef ecosystem of the park.”

McCawley assured commissioners that any specific rules affecting fishermen would return to the FWC for a vote. “We not giving anything up” in terms of jurisdiction, she said.

“It has not been easy to get here,” Yablonski said of the Special Recreation Zone. “We were fighting a big battle on the marine reserve, and now the Park Service is doing something it has never done before.”

The FWC would manage the lottery and issuance of the zone permits.

Biscayne National Park managers come to Key Largo for a Dec. 11 comment session on new management plans for the area. Public comment is open until Feb. 20.

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Charter captain pans Pew/Audubon report on baitfish

Local charter fishing leaders are saying a recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and Audubon Florida is not based on the reality of the fishing industry in Destin.

The study claims waterbirds, like pelicans and gulls, could be in danger of food shortages if the populations of small forage fish declined along the coast lines of Florida. As a result, Pew and Audubon are recommending further studies and possible change in fishing policy and regulations, such as explicitly accounting for the dietary needs of waterbirds before expanding fisheries or allowing development of new fisheries.

Audubon Florida’s director of wildlife conservation Julie Wraithmell said forage fish are an important part of a massive food web, and thus warrant the attention of conservationists, governments and fishermen alike.

“Because of the importance, they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. The report is calling attention to the fact that they are vulnerable,” Wraithmell told The Log.

Mike Eller, captain of the Lady Em and co-president of the Destin Charter Boat Association, said the report, and the resulting recommendations concerning fishing are not based on reality, because there is no evidence that forage fish populations are declining. He said since the state banned commercial net fishing in 1995, there is little commercial market for small forage fish in Destin. And fishermen can’t possibly catch enough of the fish with a hook and line to hurt the population or the birds’ food supply.

Thus, Pew and Audubon are striking up fear of something that isn’t there, Eller says.

“I can guarantee if the oxygen leaves the room, we’re all going to die,” Eller told The Log. “But they are looking for regulation on something that’s not happening.”

Researchers reported that fish such as sardines, scads, herrings, ballyhoo and mullet accounted for 20 percent of all commercial catch off the coasts of Florida in 2012. Still, Pew and Audubon researchers confirmed Eller’s claim that there is no evidence that current populations of such fish are on the decline.

“The recommendations in the report are more aimed at being proactive and taking steps to protect forage fish before they reach a crisis, because they are so important for prey for other marine wildlife,” Pew director of U.S. Oceans, Southeast, Holly Binns told The Log. “We want to make sure that we’ve got the appropriate safeguards in place.”

While the Pew and Audubon report doesn’t seem to address any current or imminent danger to wildlife, it is a timely piece of ammunition for groups working to permanently implement the current ban on certain fishing nets in state waters. 

In October, a Leon County Circuit Court judge struck down the 18-year-old ban on gill nets and other nets over 500-square-feet within three miles of the coast in the Atlantic and nine miles in the Gulf. That ruling allowed fishing with such nets for about a week, until the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee granted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission petition to stop such actions.

Now the FWC and the Coastal Conservation Association Florida are asking the courts to permanently uphold the ban, while the Wakulla Commercial Fishermen’s Association and the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association are fighting to remove it.

Meanwhile, the harvest of small bait fish off the Emerald Coast is small business. The largest portion of the forage fish that made up 20 percent of the state’s catch in 2012 were caught in federal waters off the southern coasts of the state, where the state government has no jurisdiction.

Commercial fishermen docking in Destin often don’t even use local bait fish, Eller said. They import their bait fish, mostly from Canada and the northern east coast of the United States.

“There are millions of tons of those fish and nobody is fishing for them,” Eller said. “You’d have to do something pretty drastic to affect those fish population numbers.”

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Florida’s ban on net fishing near shore debated again

Most Floridians probably have thought little about restrictions on net fishing in Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf waters that took effect 18 years ago under a state constitutional amendment approved by 72 percent of voters.

The aim of the measure banning gill nets and limiting other types of nets to a maximum of 500 square feet was to protect inshore fish stocks—mullet, pompano, redfish, snook and others—from overharvest. Since the net ban took effect in 1995, several stocks have bounced back to healthy levels and South Floridians pretty much forgot all about the issue — until now.

Several commercial fishers in North Florida have never stopped fighting the netting laws in state courts, and last month convinced Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford to strike the limitations down. For about a week, commercial fishers struck their gill nets with impunity, harvesting unknown numbers of mullet and other species until Nov. 6 when the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee granted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s petition to stop them.

Now, the FWC — joined by Coastal Conservation Association Florida, a prominent recreational fishing group—is asking the court to permanently uphold netting restrictions while the Wakulla Commercial Fishermen’s Association—joined by the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association — wants the rules thrown out.

Captain Bill Kelly, executive director of the Keys group, says he and his colleagues would like to sit down with FWC officials, recreational anglers, conservation groups and others to negotiate a solution and avoid a lengthy court battle.

“We would like the opportunity to harvest Spanish mackerel, pompano and mullet in state waters,” Kelly said. “We’d like to see the use of gill nets with the appropriate mesh size for the appropriate targets.”

Kelly said his group would agree to catch limits and establishing areas where netting would be prohibited, such as beaches and residential canals.

Current state laws ban gill nets out to three miles in Atlantic waters and out to nine miles in the Gulf. A gill net is defined as any net with a stretched mesh greater than two inches. The Keys has a thriving commercial gill net fishery in federal waters with 17 active fishermen pursuing king mackerel under a federal quota system, according to Kelly. He says bycatch—netting unintended species—is less than one-10th of 1 percent.

“One of the cleanest, most robust fisheries there is,” Kelly declared.

He believes the same kind of gear would be suitable for harvesting Spanish mackerel, pompano and mullet in state waters.

“They could fill enormous consumer demand,” he said.

Since the gill net ban, black mullet has been harvested primarily with cast nets, or hand-thrown nets, and shipped mostly for their roe to the Far East. According to the latest figures from the FWC, the average price of roe is nearly $7 per pound while the fish themselves go for about 75 cents. Kelly believes there could be a healthy market for mullet as a food fish in the Keys.

“It would be a win for fishermen and win for consumers as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, recreational anglers are outraged at the notion of weakening or repealing netting restrictions in Florida. They fear a return to what they call the “bad old days” when their favorite species and those species’ prey were being decimated by nets.

“We will spend every penny necessary to protect the constitutional ban on gill netting,” CCA Florida chairman Jim Williams said.

The netting imbroglio is not listed on the agenda for next week’s FWC meeting in Weston, but commissioners are likely to bring it up.

In the meantime, says FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley, “we have always been and continue to be willing to discuss the issue with all parties, but we also respect the judicial process and will stay within the bounds directed by the courts.”

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New Biscayne National Park management plan gets cold reception

A new plan for managing Biscayne National Park waters north of the Florida Keys may create a new type of marine-protected area that limits recreational fishing and bans commercial fishing.

The proposal unveiled Friday by the National Park Service angered Upper Keys commercial fishermen as too extreme, and “disappointed” the National Parks Conservation Association as inadequate.

“It’s crazy,” said Ernie Piton, president of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association. “They’re closing so many areas, where are people going to go? They’ll be on top of each other.”

The park’s new recommended plan is called Alternative 6, which proposes to establish a Special Recreation Zone covering 14,679 acres, or about 23 square miles. The zone would encompass the park’s waters from Hawk Channel into the Atlantic, with the southern border east of Old Rhodes Key and running to Elliot Key.

All commercial fishing, except using lampara nets for ballyhoo, would be banned.

Recreational fishing would be limited to special-zone permit holders, decided by lottery. Plans suggest issuing 430 permits to private anglers and 70 to sportfishing guides.

“This new concept aims to accomplish the same objectives as the original preferred alternative while allowing limited fishing opportunities,” Biscayne Superintendent Brian Carlstrom said in a prepared statement.

“Our partner agencies believe that providing some access, while prohibiting certain activities that are most damaging to the coral reef system, will enable us to simultaneously achieve our visitor experience and resource protection goals,” Carlstrom said.

Biscayne staff has been working to update its 1983 management plan for more than two years.
Analysts with the National Parks Conservation Association said the group prefers an earlier proposal that would create a no-take marine reserve covering about 16 square miles.

“Without a marine reserve at Biscayne, the coral reefs will continue to deteriorate and the park will fail to achieve its management objectives, jeopardizing park resources and the visitor experience,” said Caroline McLaughlin, the group’s Biscayne specialist.

No-take areas in the Dry Tortugas have created “significant increases in the size and abundance of once-overfished species after just five years,” McLaughlin said.

Many recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen blasted the earlier Biscayne marine-reserve plan. The Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, a sport fishing advocacy group, will stake out its stand at a Saturday board meeting, board member Michael Kennedy said Tuesday.

“We are reviewing the special recreation areas and the other regulations that affect fishermen,” Kennedy said. “We have some concerns that we will address with the Park Service.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board, which strongly opposed the original no-take area as harming recreational fishing off Miami-Dade County, will get a presentation on the new plan at the FWC’s Thursday meeting in Weston.

“This application of the quota-hunt concept [for the special-use area] would be a new and novel approach to management of ecologically important marine habitats, like the portions of Florida’s reef tract” inside the park, says an FWC staff report.

At least a dozen and possibly two dozen Keys lobster trappers use waters that would close under Alternative 6, Piton said. If that area closes, many Miami fishermen almost certainly would head south to Keys waters, he said.

“This would affect so many jobs, here and in Miami,” Piton said. “I haven’t seen anything to justify it.”

Public comment on the Biscayne plan will be open through Feb. 20. Biscayne National Park’s hearings on the proposal include a Dec. 11 session in Key Largo.

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A favorite fun-lovin’ road trip: The Florida Keys

Road trips are as much a beloved touchstone of American culture as is apple pie. But if you’re wheeling down the pretty necklace of islands that string together the Florida Keys, Key lime pie is on the menu and good-natured boasting is the side dish at restaurant after restaurant that heralds its citrus dessert as best.

Driven straight, U.S. 1, called the Overseas Highway—from laid-back Key Largo to party-hearty Key West—zips end-to-end in just two-and-a-half hours. But depending on traffic, this colorful journey is worth slowing down to better savor. Spend a night or two here and there, tying a week of days into an indelible memory, in places as posh or as no-fuss as you like, working your way to the southernmost point in the continental United States, all the while sampling funky and flavorful sites, sounds, and sensations.

 

1. LOOSEN UP AT THE FIRST OF MANY HAPPY STOPS

Leaving Miami, jumpstart your vacay vibe at Alabama Jack’s, in Homestead, on Card Sound Road, a toll-way through mangrove swamps. This honky-tonk, perched on two barges over the bayou, has been around more than 50 years—weathered to be sure, yet still desired. Celebs, like Today’s Kathie Lee Gifford, sing its praises, but you’re as likely to gobble up the legendary conch fritters and sweet potato fries while sitting next to bikers, families, CEOs, mechanics, smitten couples, and those looking for love. In other words, everybody grooves at AJ. It doesn’t have a website (try calling 305-248-8741), and doesn’t appear to need advertising to fill its open-air room. Starting at 2 p.m., musicians cover songs by Jimmy Buffett, The Beach Boys, and a coterie of country-celebrating songwriters; by 7 p.m. this joint closes, because the mosquitoes are hungry, too.

 

2. INDULGE YOUR COCOA LOCO LONGINGS

For a box of sweet treats, pull over next at Key Largo Chocolates, the only chocolatier in the Florida Keys. Owners Kristie and Bob Thomas craft delectable nibbles in whimsical shapes, such as starfish, turtles, crocodiles, and flip-flops. Best sellers include truffles in flavors as palate-invigorating as champagne, tiramisu, mango, cherry, coconut, tequila, banana daiquiri, creme de menthe, and, of course, Key lime.

 

3. RIDE A MOVING MOVIE HISTORY ICON

In Key Largo, fans of John Huston’s iconic 1951 film The African Queen swoon over the very vessel on which Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn starred in the pulse-rapids drama. Ah, love! Registered now as a National Historic Site, African Queen—first built in 1912 in Africa for use by the East Africa British Railways Company to transport cargo, hunters, and missionaries across the Victoria Nile and Lake Albert—has been newly restored and now cruises the placid canals here. Captain Lance Holmquist and his wife Suzanne Holmquist signed a lease with The African Queen Trust to refurbish and run the famed boat. As I sat at its bow (remembering Bogey’s character saying, “Nobody in Africa but yours truly can get a good head of steam on the old African Queen!”), I asked Lance Holmquist whether I could try my hand at the steam gear and whistle. Toot! Toot! Swoosh! Whoosh! At the end of the film, Hepburn’s character exclaims that her experience on board was “so stimulating!” I just had a whole lot of fun.

 

4. SETTLE INTO YOUR FIRST NIGHT WITH A SOOTHING SUNSET

A painterly end-of-day sky-scene is Mother Nature’s almost daily ritual here. In Key Largo, eyeball a comfy chair and raise your glass in a toast. One of the best views to philosophize the sun down is at Kona Kai Resort Gallery, a small boutique inn owned by Joe and Veronica Harris, former New Yorkers who felt the Keys calling their names. The lodging’s sandy beach, impressive works for sale by international artists, and botanic gardens round out this intimate escape.

 

5. BE PAMPERED AT AN EXPANSIVE RESORT…

Live it up in luxury at Cheeca Lodge, an Islamorada oasis since 1946, where big game fishing and society ooh-la-la put it on the must-do map. With 27 acres of lush gardens and two pools, this resort attracts honeymooners and families, kayakers, and tennis pros. For spa-goers, Cheeca Spa incorporates Tiger Clam shells right from the sea into its Signature Hot Lava Shell Massage. At its Atlantic Edge restaurant, relish the locally caught seafood, such as hogfish and grouper; or catch your own fish on an excursion and bring it back for the chef to cook any way you please. An on-property cemetery pays respect to early Keys pioneers, called Conchs.

 

6. …OR TWO

At secluded, swanky Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key—which harbors a beachfront and a marina—fishing, diving, snorkeling, kite-boarding, and stand-up paddling woo water-sport adventurers. Yet the best water-devoted moments for many guests are at its on-site Dolphin Connection, where you can swim with (and be kissed by) bottlenose beauties in an ocean-fed saltwater lagoon. Recharged yet? At the Calm Waters Spa, a skin-smoothing Key Lime Mojito Signature Scrub puts the famous fruit to new use; breathe deeply afterward in its eucalyptus steam room. For kids four to 17 years old, age-group divided activities and club haunts are well designed, with supervised nature hikes, treasure hunts, athletic games, and more. After dusk, you’ll likely see romantics holding hands in a banquette at Alma, where executive chef Sandor Matyi melds bold Latin cuisine with refined European techniques.

 

7. …OR GET CASUAL AT A MELLOW BUNGALOW

In Islamorada, Pines Palms corrals a dozen cottages, each in different décor; there is a heated freshwater pool and tiki bar, too. Wake up to sky as turquoise as the sea and stretch your legs on its pier (photo above); then take a walk on the mild side up the road to cute Midway Café Coffee Bar (305-664-2622), which whips up tropical espresso macchiatos, fresh fruit smoothies, and cream-swirled waffles. Its friendly owner, Nicole Lindholm, originally from Chicago, moved here years ago for, as she says, “the beautiful weather and beautiful people.”

 

8.  DISCOVER ART WITH HEART CHILL IN A SURFER-INSPIRED SPOT

In Islamorada, you can’t miss the Rain Barrel Artisans’ Village, because its entrance is towered over by a 30-foot lobster statue dubbed Betsey (photo above). Amble the leafy path to multiple shops chock full of sculpture, pottery, paintings, glass designs, jewelry, and knickknacks. And then drive further to Islamorada’s Morada Way Arts Cultural District to shop fancy galleries and peek in artists’ studios. Nearby, also in Islamorada, amid an abundance of tropical flowers, surfboard-decorated Morada Bay Café plops its Beach Café tables on white sand, so you can merrily bury your toes in softness while supping on conch salad and Keys stone crab. Indoor and outdoor bars, live entertainment (oh, those hip-swaying hula dancers!), Adirondack chairs, and monthly full-moon parties make this a laid-back-fun-forward scene anytime.

 

9. GET UP TO DATE ABOUT TURTLE LOWDOWN

In Marathon, enjoy a guided educational session at the Turtle Hospital, which has been rehabbing injured sea turtles, researching their healthcare, and returning them to their natural habitat since 1986. You’ll tour the surgical suite and watch Greens, Loggerheads, and Kemp’s Ridleys recuperate in their holding tanks, while boning up on info about boat injuries, viral tumors, and life behaviors.

 

10. BE CHARMED BY KEY WEST’S SMALL HOTELS

When you finallly arrive at this southernmost of U.S. cities, you’ll find the BBs here are among the most beguiling anywhere. Island City House, my favorite, is the oldest-operating guesthouse in Key West and encompasses three buildings—Island City House, Carriage House, and Cigar House, which was a former cigar-rolling factory, all of which surround an ambrosial garden, where you breakfast under trees.

 

11. SCOPE OUT A KEY WEST SEND-OFF

On Mallory Square Dock, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of people gather every evening for the Sunset Celebration, Musicians, psychics, acrobats, and jugglers entertain an ebullient crowd. As the firey ball slips beneath the horizon, join in the oohs-and-aahs.

 

12. EAT UP KEY WEST BOUNTY

There is so much good food, so little time! El Meson de Pepe, a Cuban-inspired restaurant run by chef Pepe Diaz and his family since 1986, is housed in the brick building Cayo Hueso y Habana, now an emporium on Mallory Square, but where, in the 19th century, thousands of Cuban refugees once disembarked. Order Pepe’s rabirubia frita entera (fried whole yellowtail) and camarones al ajillo (shrimp sauteed in olive oil, white wine, garlic, and lemon), then take a spin on the dance floor to the tune of a lively band.

On Duval Street in Old Town Key West, Jimmy Buffett parrot-heads make their trek to mecca Margaritaville  for cheeseburgers in paradise and booze in the blender; bands perform nightly, except Mondays. Nearby, Smokin’ Tuna Saloon keeps its guests applauding with a busy roster of mood-elevating musicians and a raw bar. Another raw bar revelation—with towering platters of crabs, oysters, clams, Key West pink shrimp, and Royal Red shrimp—is at Conch Republic Seafood Company, by the Historic Seaport.

And thank heavens there is Blue Heaven, on Thomas Street in a century-old building, where decades ago a bordello, cockfighting den, and boxing ring (with some matches refereed by Ernest Hemingway) carved out niches. Today, this quirky and adorable haven allows roosters to roam the outside grounds as you eat on brightly painted tables under an almond tree. Married owners Suanne Kilchar and Richard Hatch, along with Richard’s chef brother, Dan Hatch, got this dream soaring 20-some years ago with recipes from their mother, Betty Hatch. Now kitchen-led by executive chef Guillaume Pailloux, the restaurant offers yummy day-long menus that never fail to rustle up lines of customers, though I covet most its breakfast reverie, especially specialty lobster eggs benedict.

Suanne and Richard also own Salute! On The Beach, on Higgs Beach, where Dan is currently lending an expert culinary hand; it focuses on Italian classics, such as linguini with mussels, lasagna, and Tuscan bean soup.

Then, aim your headlights over Cow Key Channel Bridge, nosing around nearby Stock Island, Key West’s less-wild wee neighbor, for a locals-cherished hangout, Hogfish Bar Grill, next to Safe Harbour Marina. Sit outdoors on rustic picnic tables or indoors under a soaring thatched roof to ravish delish fish tacos, blackened mahi mahi, hogfish sandwiches, and coconut shrimp. You’ll also find a jukebox, bandstand, full bar, pool table, and waiters who smile like you’re family.

 

13. FLOAT ON A BOAT NEAR WHERE DOLPHINS HANG OUT

Captain Victoria Impallomeni-Spencer, a native wilderness guide for 38 years with an environmental marine science degree, has many skills, perhaps the most spell-binding of which is her dolphin-whispering talent. Sign up for an endearing, soul-enriching afternoon through her Dancing Dolphins Spirits Charters to observe dolphins living freely. Aboard her 25-foot powerboat, she blows her dolphin-sensitive whistle and those who recognize her sound swim alongside. She plays a concert of songs for them, too—from Leonard Cohen melodies to classical pieces. On the serene afternoon that I searched for dolphins with Victoria, they were initially evasive. Then an energetic handful appeared, bobbing around our ship. I stared at their faces, the blue sky, the clear sea, and, oh wow, my joyful tears fell.

 

14. FEEL THE FLUTTER AND WONDER

At the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory on Duval Street, there are butterflies galore—hundreds of them in myriad colors. They dart among blooming plants and waterfalls. If you’re very still, they might alight upon your head and shoulders. Don’t miss the Key West Garden Club at the West Martello Tower (a Civil War fort and National Historic Site) where White Street meets the Atlantic Ocean. Brick pathways and arched courtyards outdoors lead you among a rare collection of native and exotic trees and plants. Orchids perfume the air.

 

15. COMMUNE WITH AN OLD MAN AND THE SEA

No visit to Key West would be complete without a peek at the Hemingway Home, on Whitehead Street, where Ernest lived and wrote. There is a museum to explore, and lots of historical lore to brush up on, as well as the six-toed cats to spy, but the most exciting part for visitors is his study, where his typewriter still tops a table.

 

16. AHOY YOUR MATEYS AT THE END OF THE LINE

Channel your inner pirate or first-mate fantasies aboard the 80-foot, square-rigged, topsail Schooner Jolly II Rover with its distinctive red sails. Directed by personable owner Bill Malone and his crew, you can help hoist the sails, steer the wheel, fire the cannon, or just veg with your bev. There are afternoon trips, but, once again, the Florida Keys’ sunsets are a powerful elixir, and its night-time stargazing voyages offer up many opportunities for wishes.

For more info, go to: The Florida Keys Key West and Visit Florida.

 

What has inspired you about the Florida Keys? Do you have a favorite hideaway here? Where have you most enjoyed traveling? We’d love to know!

Frequent globetrotter Laura Manske has visited most U.S. states, explored 70+ countries, and cruised 60+ ships. She loves to wander the world, unearthing travel joy, beauty, adventure, and humor through her camera lens and articles. Now, she’s sharing pictures and memories of her favorite spots on Parade.com.


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New Biscayne Bay management plan gets cold reception

A new plan for managing Biscayne National Park waters north of the Florida Keys may create a new type of marine-protected area that limits recreational fishing and bans commercial fishing.

The proposal unveiled Friday by the National Park Service angered Upper Keys commercial fishermen as too extreme, and “disappointed” the National Parks Conservation Association as inadequate.

“It’s crazy,” said Ernie Piton, president of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association. “They’re closing so many areas, where are people going to go? They’ll be on top of each other.”

The park’s new recommended plan is called Alternative 6, which proposes to establish a Special Recreation Zone covering 14,679 acres, or about 23 square miles. The zone would encompass the park’s waters from Hawk Channel into the Atlantic, with the southern border east of Old Rhodes Key and running to Elliot Key.

All commercial fishing, except using lampara nets for ballyhoo, would be banned.

Recreational fishing would be limited to special-zone permit holders, decided by lottery. Plans suggest issuing 430 permits to private anglers and 70 to sportfishing guides.

“This new concept aims to accomplish the same objectives as the original preferred alternative while allowing limited fishing opportunities,” Biscayne Superintendent Brian Carlstrom said in a prepared statement.

“Our partner agencies believe that providing some access, while prohibiting certain activities that are most damaging to the coral reef system, will enable us to simultaneously achieve our visitor experience and resource protection goals,” Carlstrom said.

Biscayne staff has been working to update its 1983 management plan for more than two years.
Analysts with the National Parks Conservation Association said the group prefers an earlier proposal that would create a no-take marine reserve covering about 16 square miles.

“Without a marine reserve at Biscayne, the coral reefs will continue to deteriorate and the park will fail to achieve its management objectives, jeopardizing park resources and the visitor experience,” said Caroline McLaughlin, the group’s Biscayne specialist.

No-take areas in the Dry Tortugas have created “significant increases in the size and abundance of once-overfished species after just five years,” McLaughlin said.

Many recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen blasted the earlier Biscayne marine-reserve plan. The Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, a sport fishing advocacy group, will stake out its stand at a Saturday board meeting, board member Michael Kennedy said Tuesday.

“We are reviewing the special recreation areas and the other regulations that affect fishermen,” Kennedy said. “We have some concerns that we will address with the Park Service.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board, which strongly opposed the original no-take area as harming recreational fishing off Miami-Dade County, will get a presentation on the new plan at the FWC’s Thursday meeting in Weston.

“This application of the quota-hunt concept [for the special-use area] would be a new and novel approach to management of ecologically important marine habitats, like the portions of Florida’s reef tract” inside the park, says an FWC staff report.

At least a dozen and possibly two dozen Keys lobster trappers use waters that would close under Alternative 6, Piton said. If that area closes, many Miami fishermen almost certainly would head south to Keys waters, he said.

“This would affect so many jobs, here and in Miami,” Piton said. “I haven’t seen anything to justify it.”

Public comment on the Biscayne plan will be open through Feb. 20. Biscayne National Park’s hearings on the proposal include a Dec. 11 session in Key Largo.

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