Notes on Feb. 18 SAC meeting and upcoming Mar. 6 meeting

February 19, 2014

Club Members,
Before recapping that meeting, I want to use this email to urge members to attend the next meeting. It will take place March 6 and 7 at the Marathon Garden Club. This should be a very informative meeting. The Agenda is a little sketchy, but it says they will review the agency “screen and remove” outcomes, and review the scientific and socio-economic data. It is expected that means the agency will have made some recommendations to remove some of the proposed closed zones. They will then move on to work with that Data for the Tortugas Region. It was not a topic for this meeting, but a question was asked of the FWC, IF it would be easier to enforce fewer-larger closed zones rather than the numerous small zones currently recommended. That might get mentioned again at the March meeting, or the later zoning meetings.

We have all been screaming that they provide the scientific and economic information, so this is our opportunity to see just how complete and accurate that information is. This should give us some indication of how well they have studied our area, which will come up for review at the April 17 and 18 meeting also at the Marathon Garden Club. If you want to better understand how they accumulate data, and be ready to consider what they present for our area, this will be an important meeting to attend.

From various communications I have had with people involved with these quasi governmental groups, I have been advised that maybe as important as the work of groups like CCA and RFA, would be to have our club create proposals, arguments, motions or whatever type of communications, and submit with a list of all of the names of club members who agree with the statement. I am told that having actual names of local taxpayers is more important than lobbying groups. Who knows??

In that regard, there was an interesting moment yesterday (Tuesday). One of the members of the council posed a question as to why it seemed the public was not too involved. He asked if the staff was making every effort to get the word out. The staff replied by saying they were using newspapers and the website, etc etc. and made some kind of comment that it really seemed to work for KCB. I guess we have begun to make ourselves known. We need to continue that.

Please keep in mind that the following comments are the observations and opinions of just one person. I do not intend to mislead, but take all comments with a grain of salt. At times some of the discussions were taking place with poor microphone placement.

As for the meeting concerning enforcement, you might have seen the article in the Citizen, but I will say that was only a small portion of the meeting. The meeting was quite boring, yet somewhat informative. Every branch of enforcement reported what they do. FWC, Coast Guard, US Fish & Wildlife, NOAA, and FKNMS (the Monroe County Sherriff Department was mentioned, but not represented). Nothing that we would not expect. It was quite informative as to how they do coordinate their efforts and cooperate with each other.

I won’t go into details, but as the agencies especially the FWC and Coast Guard listed all of the duties they are tasked to perform, they all claim they are terribly underfunded and understaffed. Of course this led to the beginning of a discussion as to how they can get more money. That was not a real topic of this meeting, but some ideas were mentioned such as increasing fishing license fees or requiring a Sanctuary Stamp similar to a Lobster Stamp, or starting a new Sanctuary Fee and Sticker for all boats coming into the Sanctuary. Of course they also suggested that the Sanctuary lobby State and Federal Government for more money.

One thing I noticed, was that in the entire day, discussions revolved around their efforts which were predominated by “Groundings (which NOAA said was the most frequent violation they were involved with), Trap Robbing, Illegal Commercial Fishing, of course Drug and Immigrant Interdiction, Marine Life thieves and so on. Enforcement of the Tortugas Zone is a huge challenge. If there was any mention of problems with Hook and Line Recreational Fisherman, it was simply some kind of afterthought. We did not really make the list of primary challenges!

I would say that the primary take away from the meeting is that all agencies feel they do not have enough money or resources to do what they have been tasked to do, and they need to find money so they can increase enforcement. One of the Council members put it quite blunt. Why are we trying to increase Rules, Regulations, and Closed Zones, when we can’t even enforce what we have? Surprisingly one of the Enforcement people suggested that the Council consider eliminating some regulations before adding new ones. They also discussed the challenges with adding a bunch of zones and how they could educate the public, get the zones marked or put on charts. It is good to know that at least some of the Council members are applying some common sense to those questions.

The only Public Comment was made by a Commercial Fisherman. To summarize: He accused the Council of a Land Grab, and pointed out that as zones are closed, such as the Biscayne Bay now, fisherman are going to get crowded into smaller and smaller areas, which will increase user group conflicts, and rape the open areas. He also complained that the Council was holding too many meetings and because fisherman have to work, the meetings are too hard for them to attend. He also stated that the Council would do more good if they would help find money for stopping pollution, do shore cleanup, and better enforce what is out there now. I took from that that he feels there is too much trap robbing and illegal fishing going on, and it needs to be stopped. He suggested that the Council make decisions based on the work they have already done. Personally I disagree with that part of his comments, because I don’t think the work they have done has any real scientific or economic studies. I think the upcoming meetings are going to be very important for the public to get involved. Two day meetings are inconvenient, but when we realize that once new rules or zones are in place they will probably be there forever, a few days to get involved are not all that important.

For your consideration

Jim Teague