House Panel Considers Effects of Biscayne Park Closure
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Posted by: Mary Gillen
On August 3rd, hundreds of concerned Florida locals crowded inside the William F. Dickinson community center in Homestead, Florida to witness a joint oversight hearing of the House Committee On Small Business and the House Committee on Natural Resources. Committee members gathered to discuss restricted access at Biscayne National Park and implications for fishermen, small businesses, the local economy and environment.
Biscayne National Park is located on the Southeast coast of Florida, and is 95% covered by water. Recently, the National Park Service released a General Management plan that includes a marine reserve zone that would prohibit fishing in more than 10,000 acres of the park, and close other areas off to all motorboat traffic. This move has come under fire by many in the area and in the Florida Congressional delegation, who question the far-reaching effects that a move like this could have.
In his opening statement, Congressman Carlos Curbelo, acting Chairman for the Small Business Committee (who represents the Florida Keys and parts of Miami-Dade County) stated:
“The park’s beauty, cultural heritage, and natural resources make it an urban oasis for local residents and tourists. Biscayne National Park is used for a variety of recreational and commercial activities, including fishing, boating, scuba diving, snorkeling, and observing wildlife.
While I share the National Park Service’s commitment to protecting Biscayne National Park’s coral reefs and fishery resources, I am concerned that the final General Management Plan will unnecessarily restrict the public’s access to the park and negatively affect fishermen and other small businesses.”
The witnesses of the hearing included local members of the boating and fishing industries, marine ecosystems experts, as well as state and federal government officials. The majority of small business owners who were present to testify were adamant that closure of the park would be detrimental to not only the businesses that provide marine related services, but to many small businesses in the area such as restaurants and hotels patronized by people who travel to the area to take advantage of the park. Their testimony underscored the importance of the economic and societal impact of the boating industry in the area; if Biscayne Park were to be closed to fishing and boating, many families in the area would have a hard time keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Much of the hearing focused on a legislative fix to what many consider to be an overreach of the Federal Government. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act (H.R. 3310) with the bipartisan support of 30 House colleagues. The bill will ensure that state authorities will have the opportunity to have a say in the development of any new fishing access restrictions in areas where state marine waters and national park or national marine sanctuary boundaries overlap. According to the Congresswoman: “We all have a stake in the protection of Biscayne National Park’s natural resources and the preservation of vital economic and recreational opportunities that depend on Biscayne’s beauty and bounty. Over the past 15 years, I have prodded the National Park Service to increase their outreach and work together with all stakeholders in the process of developing a new General Management Plan. However, the stubborn and unsupported inclusion of a no-fishing zone in the park’s final proposal seems to be the result of a process that treats collaboration like a check box on a form, rather than as a serious dialogue between partners. That’s not right, and we should demand better from our federal government.” The act has been introduced and referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, but will not be considered further until after Congress’ August recess.