A Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary working group will reconvene Monday, after holding more public meetings this week to get input on potentially closing more areas to fishing and other hot-button topics.
The sanctuary held the extra meetings after fishermen voiced opposition to a series of maps, detailing proposed closed fishing areas, by some members of the sanctuary's Ecosystem Protection Working Group.
The working group will not make recommendations when it meets Monday in Marathon, Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton said.
"We just received a lot of information, and we need time to digest it," Morton said. "We need to look at different processes and figure out what the next steps are ... . There is no hurry. There is no time limit."
Working Group Chairman Chris Bergh said the Monday meeting will be "more general." He said he hoped members would be reviewing the public comment over the weekend.
"There was a tremendous amount of feedback," Bergh said. "The goal of having more meetings was accomplished."
Roughly 70 people attended each of the four meetings.
Fishermen reiterated their opposition to any new closed areas. Such decisions are not under the jurisdiction of the sanctuary, said commercial fisherman Josh Nicklaus. He said the rules fall under the authority of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in state waters and federal fishery management councils and National Marine Fisheries Service in federal waters.
"We don't need any new closed areas," Nicklaus said. "That needs to be off the table."
He and other fishermen also argued that such decisions need to be based on science and stock assessments, and said the current assessments don't warrant closing off more areas in the sanctuary.
Closing off areas puts more fishing pressure on the areas that remain open, fishermen said.
They also asked that the sanctuary not set aside all the nearshore patch reefs and fishing spots, because those are the only spots they can go when the weather is rough. Charter boat captains said it's not just about convenience, but rather is a safety issue for them and their customers.
The Ecosystem Protection Working Group will meet at 9 a.m. Monday at the Marathon Garden Club.