No bite on no-fishing zones
But after two days of meetings, it seems clear that much of the fishing public isn't biting -- particularly on the idea of no-fishing zones, the most controversial of numerous proposals to revive the park's shrinking fish stocks.
''We just think there are some alternatives that could be implemented first,'' said Scott Nichols, regional director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, a sport-fishing group that has opposed similar no-take zones in the Keys and along the coast.
Park managers, who are revising its management plan and fishery regulations, are directing much of their initial energy to gathering ideas and quelling wild rumors.
While they revealed no specific proposals, they repeatedly stressed there was no plan to ban fishing in the sprawling, popular park.Biscayne National, which covers 270 square miles from Central Biscayne Bay to just north of Key Largo and extends beyond the shallow reefs east of Elliott Key, is a backyard playground for thousands of boaters and gets an estimated half-million visitors yearly.
WAITING FOR MAP
''Trust me, they're looking at large-scale changes here,'' said Capt. Dan Kipnis, former operator of the Reward party boat fleet in Miami Beach who now spends several days a week pursuing bone fish. ``It's scary.''
A number of marine scientists, backed by environmentalists, support no-fishing zones, also known as marine reserves.
The idea isn't to protect just certain species of fish but to preserve complex, and poorly understood, systems.
''This gives us the unique opportunity to establish areas that can serve as conservancies of what a natural marine ecosystem looks like,'' said David White, director of the southeastern office of The Ocean Conservancy.
But many recreational groups and commercial anglers remain unconvinced they'll work -- arguing that pollution, overdevelopment and a serious lack of enforcement are more to blame for many declines. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which regulates fishing in statewaters and is working with the park on the plan, also has said it generally considers no-fishing ``overly restrictive.''
JUST ONE OPTION
Rather than strict no-fishing zones, there could be areas that allow fishing, as long as the catches were released -- an option that would alleviate many concerns from anglers who pursue the bay's famous bonefish and tarpon for sport.
''We're not going to be closing prime bonefishing areas or making it impossible for people to bonefish,'' said Canzanelli.
Commercial fishing boats, particularly ones that catch live shrimp for bait in Biscayne Bay, could be the hardest hit.
They could face potential bans or tougher restrictions, perhaps demands to change their gear -- trawling nets on rollers that biologists say damage sea grass and corals vital to small fish.
Jorge Luis Cruz, a member of Biscayne Bay Associated Shrimpers of Florida, said mounting rules threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of families. "They're just trying to eliminate the fisherman one way or another. That's the real reason for all these regulations.''