Florida Keys News
Monday, December 9, 2013
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Sanctuary meeting slated for Tuesday on Duck Key

After several months on hiatus, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council will meet this week to ramp up its work on updating its management plan, a 10-year review of its regulations.

The Sanctuary Advisory Council and its working groups had gained a lot of momentum working on updating the management plan. However, the two-week federal government shutdown in October delayed the its work and postponed several important meetings.

The advisory council will resume its meetings Tuesday at the Islander Resort in Islamorada and will set goals and time lines for the upcoming year to deal with the management plan.

"We've got to move this forward onto the Sanctuary Advisory Council," Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent, said. "This process is really being driven by the Sanctuary Advisory Council."

Sanctuary managers have held 46 public meetings since the process started two years ago.

"I would be surprised if people say we haven't had an open public discussion on this," Morton joked.

The meetings have not always been comfortable. At one working group meeting in August, dozens of angry fishermen spoke against closing off more areas in the Sanctuary to fishing.

The outcry motivated sanctuary managers to hold a series of public meetings in September to reassure fishermen that their voices are being heard and that no new closed areas would be established without considerable mount of public discussion and science to justify the closures.

The issue was slated to go back to working group and then Sanctuary Advisory Council, but the government shutdown put the whole management review process on hold and the sanctuary decided to postpone its meetings until December.

It will most likely begin developing recommendations to its management plan by the end of 2014.

After the sanctuary proposes the changes to its management plan, the agency will still have to conduct an environmental impact study, which will look at the long-term environmental and economic impacts of the changes. The study will take at least a year to complete, as the sanctuary will have to consult with other federal and state agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Morton said.

Public input and the sanctuary's "condition report," which was released in 2011 and gives specific data on the health of coral and fish populations, is guiding the management review process.

The review is an ongoing process, and the rules will not be finalized until 2015.

The Sanctuary Advisory Council will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Islander Resort in Islamorada.

tohara@keysnews.com

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