FWC plays crucial role in making Florida a top fishing state
As springtime sets in, bringing blue skies and warmer weather, anglers are heading to the water. Miles of coastline along southeast Florida make our region a popular destination for recreational fishing, contributing to our local economy and solidifying Florida's reputation as the Fishing Capital of the World. However, there are ongoing efforts that threaten access to our waters and could lead to a reversal of the tremendous success our state has achieved in fisheries management.
One such effort is led by a group called Our Florida Reefs, which is seeking to close up to 30 percent of our reef tract to fishing. Despite a lack of scientific evidence to show that fishing is a problem for the reef ecosystem, the group is proposing massive no-take zones from St. Lucie Inlet to Key Biscayne. They also recommend nominating the entire area as a National Marine Sanctuary, which would turn management of these waters over to the federal government.
Threats to recreational fishing exist beyond our waters as well. In the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper fishing in federal waters has been reduced from a 365-day season to a 10-day season, and recreational red snapper fishing is prohibited in the south Atlantic. In addition, Florida's sportfishing industry is facing environmental threats. Water quality issues in the Everglades, Florida Bay and Indian River Lagoon are having a devastating effect on fisheries, causing a decline in fishing opportunities.
Any closure will have a negative impact on our economy. Florida's sportfishing industry supports more than 80,000 jobs and generates $8.6 billion in economic activity each year. Further, one in three of Florida's 3 million anglers are from out-of-state.
As the vice president of a Fort Lauderdale-based company that manufactures marine products, and as the president of the Broward County Chapter of the Florida Coastal Conservation Association, I support measures that ensure healthy and abundant fisheries for years to come. Fortunately, Florida has a state agency that knows how to manage fisheries effectively in our state waters.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does outstanding work by balancing recreational access to fisheries with sustainable practices. For example, after a severe cold snap killed a large portion of snook in early 2010, FWC closed Gulf and Atlantic harvest of the species. They worked with stakeholders to determine best management alternatives, and in subsequent years, were able to re-open snook to harvest. Today, an angler can bag one snook per day during open harvest season, which is five to seven-and-a-half months of the year, depending on where you fish.
FWC's success is made possible by the financial support of Florida's anglers. Fishing license fees and excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuel provide $40 million annually toward Florida's conservation efforts. By working together rather than independently, FWC and the sportfishing community are better able to identify challenges and opportunities within the fishing industry.
On April 2-3, Floridians and visitors were able to enjoy Florida's license-free freshwater fishing holidays. Gov. Rick Scott in partnership with the FWC approved the holidays, which include four days of free freshwater fishing and four days of free saltwater fishing this year. The next free fishing days are coming up June 4-5 for saltwater and June 11-12 for freshwater.
As we head to our beautiful ponds, lakes and beaches to enjoy a day of fishing this spring, it is important that we remain focused on the future. We must be vigilant against the growing attempts to ban recreational fishing in Florida.
If you are interested in joining the effort to protect Florida's fisheries and the public's right to fish, I encourage you to visit KeepFloridaFishing.org. Keep Florida Fishing is an initiative with the goal of ensuring Florida's resident anglers and visitors have clean waters, abundant fisheries and access to both.
Let's make sure future generations can experience the joy of fishing.