EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK — Following pushback from some local professional fishing guides, Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos has suspended a new rule that would have required a per person fee for vessels entering federal waters in Florida Bay.
“I have found that we could have done a better job consulting with and informing the public on this particular maritime entry fee,” Ramos wrote in a Feb. 1 email.
Late last month, a park email was circulated that informed a handful of Upper Keys guides that enforcement of an entrance fee for people on vessels would begin in April. This included customers aboard a commercial boat, recreational anglers on a personal boat and kayakers.
The park’s general management plan, which became effective last year after over a decade in the making, said that vessels in the future could be charged a per person fee. It didn’t have a specific date, though. Last month was the first many became aware of the plan to enforce it.
Currently, an entrance fee is paid only by those coming to the park by land. A visit to its website shows no online option to purchase a pass for those on a vessel. Ramos, last month, told guides they could click on the “Pedestrian/Cyclist” link to pay the $8 fee.
“I have also found that our new web-based fee collection program is not ready for remote park pass activation, making it very impractical for our visitors coming in by boat, with guides or otherwise, to use it,” Ramos wrote in the email.
The commercial fishing guides, who pay an annual fee of $250 to operate within the park, were pleased with the decision to back off the new fee. Many initially expressed outrage because the matter was not discussed locally in public workshops.
Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association Commodore Capt. Steve Friedman commended Ramos and said he looked forward to working on the issue more.
Councilman Mike Forster, who acted as the unofficial liaison between Islamorada guides and Ramos, credited U.S Congressman Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, for his role in getting the fee suspended. Ramos and Curbelo, according to Forster, have been friends for some time.
“Carlos was the one that did it,” Forster said. “But either way, faith has been restored in the system.”
Ramos said he was also suspending the requirement of commercial vessels to document each visitor they bring into the park via Florida Bay, which was another new rule related to the entrance fee.
“My constituents shared a valid concern and you listened and took action,” Curbelo wrote in an email to Ramos.
As for what’s next, Forster expected the suspension of the new fee and reporting requirement to continue through 2017. That would then give the park time to hold public workshops regarding the issue in August or September. Forster said he would know more specifics after meeting with Ramos, Friedman, a Key Largo Fishing Guides Association representative and others.
“There we’ll hopefully figure out what’s the best way to move forward with all of this,” Forster said.