Anglers and environmentalists are at odds on a controversial plan to preserve declining fish stocks in Florida's Biscayne Bay National Park.
The park is currently proposing a 23-square mile protection zone in the Biscayne Bay as a means to save fish stocks and preserve dying coral reefs and sea grass.
The proposed plan would allow only 430 individual fishing permits and 70 guide permits to the park each year, and would prohibit anchoring, spearfishing, grouper and lobster fishing and most commercial fishing
The new plan is a response to a rejected proposal by local environmental groups to create a 16-square mile no fishing zone within the park.
That plan was widely supported by both the public and environmental groups, but heavily contested by the local fishing community.
Each year, the park's diverse fish species attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of them boaters. Environmentalists argue that anglers who fish the bay from boats are causing the most damage to the environment and fish stocks.
"I'm pretty furious that the National Park Service is kowtowing to the anglers' interests," said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. "We're not anti-hunting or anti-fishing, but it's well acknowledged that the fish stocks in Biscayne Bay are heavily depleted, the coral reefs are in terrible shape, and this (the no-fishing zone) was a solution."
But most local anglers, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is comprised of seven members who have interests in fishing, see the situation differently.
Many in the local fishing community believe that most of the devastation is caused by drunken boaters who damage sea grass beds, and farming organizations that allow fertilizers and pesticides to run into the ocean.
"People who don't care about the place are the ones tearing it up," said Russel Kleppinger, a local charter captain. "When you get people calling the shots who are tree huggers, they either want to limit your access or make it impossible for you to be there."
Either way, one thing seems to be clear: Boaters are a part of the problem.
Each year, the park's diverse fish species attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of them boaters.
The park's newly proposed plan will undergo a 90-day public comments process before any decision is made. Public discussion will begin today, December 9, 2013 at the University of Miami.
Do you think fishing is causing the most damage to the Biscayne Bay? Let us know in the comments section below.