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Lower Keys Guide Captain Dale Bishop Stresses to FWC Commissioners the Importance of Protecting the Flats Fishery and Western Dry Rocks

Photo: Captain Dale Bishop

The following remarks were delivered by Captain Dale Bishop at the February 19 FWC Commission meeting. Capt. Bishop spoke on the agenda item: Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary’s Restoration Blueprint. 

Good morning, my name is Captain Dale Bishop. I am a flats fishing guide in the Lower Florida Keys. I’ve been guiding for over fifteen years. I am also a board member of the Lower Keys Guides Association and sit on the Sanctuary Advisory Council as the alternate representing the flats fishing community. I’d like to talk today about our priorities in relation to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s Restoration Blueprint.

First, though, I’d like to emphasize the economic impact that flats fishing has on the Keys and the state as a whole. Bonefish & Tarpon Trust commissioned a study to determine this in 2012. I’d like to quote part of the conclusion of this study.

“The flats fishery in the Florida Keys is a highly visible and important component of the state’s fishing economy. Anglers from throughout the state, country and world travel to the Keys with the thoughts of hooking world record tarpon, permit, bonefish or other species. Flats fishing is responsible for generating over $465 million to the Florida economy, much of it locally.”

So, in 2012, it was determined that flats fishing in the Keys generated $465 million a year to the Florida economy. That was eight years ago, and I can tell you that there has been tremendous growth since then. So, I’m sure that these numbers are substantially higher now.

As a user group, we bring an incredibly high value to the economy, with incredibly low impact to the resource. Our group practices catch and release fishing and as a result, the flats fishery is a sustainable model. Through organizations, like the Lower Keys Guides Association, we also educate our members, anglers, and the public on the proper techniques to handle fish for release, which makes this an even more sustainable model. Our captains are knowledgeable of the navigation of our waters, we pole the flats quietly so as not to disturb the wildlife on the flats both below and above the water. And we educate our anglers about the Keys ecosystems during the course of our charters.

However, there are external issues that affect our fishery that are not in our control, such as water quality, damage to the habitat, and loss of species like permit to predation from being caught while at their spawning aggregations.

Some of this can be addressed through the Restoration Blueprint and your recommendations to NOAA. Regardless of what comes out of the Restoration Blueprint, it will be ineffectual without more on the water law enforcement. There cannot be sound management without substantial on the water law enforcement. This is a theme that was expressed through most of the various other user groupers during public comment on the Blueprint. We’d also like for you to recognize the need to protect the shallow water habitat through effective spatial management. This includes proper zoning to protect shallow water habitats including pole troll, and idle speed zones and marked running lanes to prevent groundings and seagrass loss. In regards to groundings and seagrass scarring, we’d like you to partner with the Sanctuary to promote boater education within the Sanctuary to prevent further degradation to the shallow water habitat.

I personally think this “blueprint” doesn’t go nearly far enough. If we don’t do something now to protect the shallow water habitat, we’ll witness further decline and future generations, including my daughter, won’t be able to enjoy the wonders of this truly remarkable ecosystem.

Thank you.

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