In our April issue, I wrote about the great fishing in Florida Bay, the shallow body of water found in Everglades National Park between the southern tip of mainland Florida and the Florida Keys. Now, a new preferred alternative in the ENP General Management Plan has surfaced, and if it comes to pass, access to much of that great fishing could be in jeopardy.
The Park Service released its GMP document this past February, catching many of those who had participated in its development by surprise. There have been at least two prior iterations of draft management plans for Florida Bay, one of which established what’s known as a “Pole and Troll” zone for the shallow bay known as Snake Bight, just east of Flamingo. Pole and Troll simply means no combustible engines are allowed in; you can push your boat with a push-pole (Pole) or use an electric motor (Troll), or a paddle.
Although controversial at the time, most anglers and guides who fish Florida Bay accepted the Snake Bight zone because it represents one of the largest continuous bodies of ultrashallow water in the park, and so might warrant special protection. That zone went into effect in January 2010.
But in the current preferred alternative, the Park Service is proposing a radical expansion of the pole/troll concept that would cover about 33 percent of all Florida Bay waters. That’s right: One-third of Florida Bay would be off-limits to combustible engines. That’s approximately 131,392 acres of pole/troll, ostensibly to better protect the sea bottom, including sea-grass beds and important ecological habitats.
A mandatory boater-education permit program would also be created to provide all boaters with information on boat safety in the park, and would include information on how to protect sea grasses, encouraging good stewardship and responsible vessel operation. The education course would be made widely accessible — on the Internet and at park gates and visitor centers.
We’re all for the education aspect of the plan, but the expansion of the pole/troll zones is simply too much. It’s unnecessary, unenforceable (the preferred alternative calls for the zones to be “minimally marked to preserve the scenery and aesthetics of Florida Bay, and minimize maintenance requirements”), and the distances requiring polling or trolling are too great. The plan will also close many existing channels in the bay, forcing fishermen to make longer runs in their boats.
Emphasizing responsible boat operation should be the goal the Park Service shoots for, not unnecessarily shutting out those who fish and guide in the bay. These are the very people who want to protect it most of all.
You can read the GMP alternatives pertaining to Florida Bay by logging on to saltwatersportsman.com/enp.