The state's wildlife conservation agency was among the many voices that came out against an Everglades National Park proposal released over the winter to close off a third of Florida Bay to internal-combustion motor use.
Now, Principal Park Planner Fred Herling says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be among the agencies the Park Service will respond to directly as it works toward finalizing the much-debated Everglades National Park General Management Plan.
In formal comments put forward in late April, the FWC closely aligned itself with Upper Keys fishing guides and business organizations that vocally opposed the proposed creation of 131,000 acres of pole/troll-only zones during a series of public meetings over the spring.
"It is a commonly held misconception that the public continues to have access to areas for fishing after pole and troll zones are implemented because in theory, one can still pole and troll in order to fish," the FWC stated in the comment document signed by Scott Sanders, director of its office of conservation planning services. "In reality, fishers do not continue to have reasonable access when pole and troll zones are implemented without full consideration of the many factors that contribute to accessibility, such as the size of the zone relative to the distance fishers would need to pole/troll."
The Park Service's proposed network of pole/troll zones would be intended to protect flats and seagrass beds from boat groundings and propeller scars. The pole/troll areas were identified because they are 2 feet deep or less. Ninety-six percent of the areas in the proposed zones are within a mile of deeper water or a channel, according to the Park Service.
But the FWC argued that the establishment of what it considers to be difficult-to-access pole/troll zones would concentrate fishermen in smaller areas. Those areas, in turn, would see increased stress on fish populations and seagrass, as well as more conflicts among Florida Bay users. Among other suggestions, the FWC recommended that the Park Service establish transit corridors to facilitate access into the pole/troll zones.
Herling said Monday that Everglades officials pay close attention to comments made by partner agencies, including the FWC, which governs waters that border the park.
"It's definitely one of the most important comments we get," he said.
The Park Service will respond formally to the FWC, he added, and that letter will also be included as an addendum to the final management plan, which is scheduled for release early next year.
Some of the suggestions made by the FWC and stakeholder groups are likely to be implemented, said Herling, who explained that park staff had learned new things about channel access to the bay's shallows during ride-alongs with anglers this spring.
"The outcome will be that there will be additional access opportunities that still fit in the plan's goals," he said. He added that the Park Service also intends to research whether trolling motors are more or less harmful to the flats than internal combustion motors running at idle speeds.
Guide organizations hope the park will convert proposed pole/troll zones to pole/troll/idle speed zones.