Notes on Mar. 6-7 Zoning Working Group meeting and upcoming Mar. 25 meeting
March 8, 2014
To: Key Colony Beach Fishing and Boating Club
Report on FKNMS Zoning Working Group 2 day meeting. March 6 & 7.
This document will recap my verbal report at the KCB F&BC meeting last night, and expand on some comments. Keep in mind, these comments are the observations and opinions of one person.
NEEDS: I will start this with my conclusion. We need some members to work with me. I can be at the Upper Keys Regional meeting in Key Largo March 25&26, but I cannot attend the meeting in Marathon for the Middle Keys Region on April 17&18. I need some members to attend the upper keys meeting so that we know how this process is going to proceed. We need to find out just how we can prepare for the meeting that concerns our region (middle keys). It would be best that people who can attend the April meetings also attend the March meetings. Later I will explain more as to WHY.
Terminology: First of all in order to educate on the entire process, you should go to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Website: floridakeys.noaa.gov
At this website you can learn about the Sanctuary in general, and about the current studies and Working Groups.
FKNMS: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
SAC: Sanctuary Advisory Council
Working Groups: There are three working groups currently developing recommendations to forward to SAC. SAC will then review those recommendations and then keep or modify, and then pass on to Sanctuary Management and NOAA. These working groups are comprised of some members of SAC, but also member of various user groups and interests. The working group I will be discussing and referring to is: Ecosystem Protection: Ecological Reserves, Preservation Areas and Wildlife Protection Working Group. (Also called the Zoning Group.) The working group is co-chaired by the Sanctuary Superintendant and the FWC Program Administrator (non-voting). Then there are 7 members that are also part of the SAC, and then 9 members from other user groups.
The two day meeting that just took place in Marathon was basically a planning meeting for the working group. They reviewed their goals and objectives and procedures as to how they are going to proceed. They also reviewed what they termed “Biologic and Economic Data”.
In my opinion: I was very impressed and pleased with the procedures and efforts being made by the group. The most important concept and statement was made by the Sanctuary Superintendant and the FWC Administrator. They made it perfectly clear to the group that ALL past recommendations should be removed. They also stated emphatically that the working group should start with a CLEAN SLATE. That means the group can consider eliminating current zones, increasing current zones, creating new zones, etc etc. In other words, the charts are clear and waiting for recommendations to be created by the working group. What shocked our interest last summer was the dissemination of charts depicting recommendations for zone closures. Those recommendations are now dead and gone.
That does not mean that we should not stay involved, as decisions made this summer could affect us for at least another generation. Recommendations made this summer could go into effect by 2015 or 2016, and would probably stay in effect for 10-20 years. If we go to sleep now, then we could be sorry.
On more than one occasion when I have made a public comment, I have been met with responses such as and to the effect: “Well, if the public is really interested, why do they not attend these meetings”. In fact, some of the group has challenged SAC and the staff to find ways to get the public involved. Of course, that is a two way street. If we are there and they do not give us time, then the public stops coming. Since this study is somewhat new, I am sure the public is not really educated as to what decisions are being made. That is why I am trying to get our club educated.
I am not sure how they are going to incorporate public comments at the Regional Meetings, but I am currently offering some suggestions to them as to WHY and HOW they might include the public. That is why it is important to have some knowledgeable and interested public attend the meetings. If they are open to input from the public and nobody is there, then they will have reason to say “The Public Does not Care”.
DATA: and Lack Thereof: On one of their opening slides, they stated they would have Biologic and Economic Data to use. There lies the problem. While I applaud the information they do have, and the professional way it is presented, it is extremely incomplete. They have done hundreds of dive studies counting coral and fish. The data created from those studies was completed in 2010-2012 I believe. Of course, most studies were done in certain areas leaving the vast majority of the Sanctuary unstudied. They also have what they call “Human Interaction Data”. That data was gathered in 2004-2005. Anyone catch on?? That data is already 10 years old, and does not parallel the Biologic data. Furthermore, most of that data refers to what they call “Commercial Fishers”. They do have some data gathered by some flyovers the day before and the day after some full moon of some months, in which they counted boats and guessed at which are divers, which are charters, which are recreational, and which are commercial. From that they created datasets. How accurate?? One of the main data they refer to are the spatial impact of Commercial Fishers. The problem is, they only charted about 25% of the Commercial Fisherman, and some of them did not even answer the survey. My interpretation of the dataset laid out on the chart would indicate that are few to no commercial fisherman in the middle keys. We know how inaccurate that is.
As for economic data, they really have none. They were asked why there was no data concerning the impact of various user groups on the economy of the keys, or which user groups financially support the Sanctuary through fees, licenses, taxes and so forth. The answer basically was that there is no way to present dollars and cents distributed on a chart. What they refer to as “Spatial Data”.
SO, they really do not have any data as to how many and what areas are important to recreational fisherman, or what impact zone closures or new regulations might have on recreational fisherman. That is why they MUST allow public input, and why the public MUST attend these regional meetings.
Here is a Key concept. A representative of the Commercial Fisherman voiced a concern that the Human Interaction study was so old. He was basically advised that they have the best they have. He was also advised that it was up to the user group to offer current information. I say this is a key issue, because IF the working group wants data on current conditions, then they MUST make allowances to listen to the public. While there might be someone on the working group that knows something about commercial, or recreational, or dive issues in one region or another, I am certain they do not have members that can fill in all of the data for all of the regions. In addition to the various user groups, I feel they also might need to consider data from the business community and or the real estate group.
When we thought we knew what zones they might close, we began to create our comments. Now, the slate is blank. They are going to approach each region and start drawing lines on the charts. We need to be there to understand why they are drawing lines where they are, and offer our input as to the wisdom of drawing those lines.
Once again I offer my opinion. I do not think this working group has any predetermined agenda or plans. I do not think that they are determined to close off sections of the Sanctuary just for the sake of closing zones. I do believe they are proceeding with open minds, but the challenge will be how they can incorporate comments from the public. If we are not there, we cannot offer any comments. Then we have no legitimacy to complain.
The meeting in Key Largo will be held at the Hilton Key Largo, 97000 Overseas Highway. They start registering and coffee at 9:00 and the meetings start very promptly at 9:30. I would probably leave no later than 7:45 or so.
If you can plan on attending, please let me know by email. Jteague13@comcast.net Once we know how many people can attend, we can plan possible carpooling.