We need responsible, science-based policies to manage Biscayne’s threatened fish populations.
By the Numbers
of 35 fish stocks studied within the park are overfished, most captured before they had a chance to spawn.
decline in reef fish catches in Biscayne since the 1960s.
Biscayne National Park is a national treasure and home to part of the third-largest barrier reef ecosystem in the world. Biscayne is 95% water and the largest marine park in the National Park System, created to protect, “a rare combination of terrestrial, marine, and amphibious life in a tropical setting of great natural beauty” for present and future generations. The park also supports tourism and recreational activities, such as fishing, diving, snorkeling and boating. According to a National Park Service report, in 2018, over 450,000 visitors to Biscayne spent more than $30 million, supporting nearly 400 local jobs and generating more than $42 million for the local economy.
But if immediate action isn’t taken to protect Biscayne’s marine wildlife, these ecosystems and the economic benefits they support could be at risk.
Fish Health at Biscayne
Biscayne protects an abundance of fish species, such as mutton snapper, hogfish and black grouper. Unfortunately, decades of overfishing, overuse, water pollution and climate change have taken their toll, and many of these species are severely threatened, some on the verge of collapse. If action isn’t taken and fish populations and ecosystem health continue to decline, the National Park Service will have failed at its fundamental mission to protect Biscayne National Park in perpetuity for the enjoyment of future generations. Implementing a marine reserve and science-based fisheries management policies are key to protecting and restoring Biscayne’s marine resources.
Biscayne’s Fishery Management Plan
Biscayne National Park’s Fishery Management Plan, finalized in 2014, aims to increase the average size and abundance of target fish species in the park by 20% by creating park-specific fisheries management regulations and reducing fishing-related habitat degradation. The plan lays out a menu of options to achieve these goals, including:
- Modifying size limits and bag limits
- Creating marine reserves (areas off-limits to fishing)
- Limiting spearfishing
- Creating coral reef protection areas and no-trap areas
- Creating no-trawl zones
- Creating a permitting system for commercial fishing
The National Park Service and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are in the process of determining the specific regulations to implement at Biscayne. This process includes a public comment period, public workshops and final approval by Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s initial proposals are focused on size limits, which will not produce sustainable fish populations in Biscayne on their own. Working with fisheries experts, NPCA has developed science-based recommendations for Biscayne’s Fishery Management Plan.
- Focus on sustainable fish populations as the primary goal. This would only allow fishing at a level that can be continued indefinitely while maintaining fish populations that are productive and healthy – rather than pursuing an arbitrary goal of a 20% increase in fish populations. For some species, a 20% increase is nowhere near the level required for sustainability.
- Implement no-fishing marine reserve areas that are based on science to help reduce intensity of fishing pressure.
- Implement scientifically based minimum size limits and recreational bag limits that will lead to sustainability for each fish species under consideration.
- Create habitat protection areas, including no-trawl zones, coral reef protection areas and trap-free zones.
- Increase investments in education and enforcement, which are critical to implementing successful regulations.
- Assess these regulations every few years, rather than every seven years as currently proposed.
Conserving Biscayne’s marine wildlife and habitat will help protect biodiversity, provide recreational and economic opportunities, build ecosystem resiliency, and strengthen connections between our communities and maritime heritage. We must work together to protect Biscayne before it’s too late.
For more information, see NPCA’s formal recommendations on Biscayne’s Fishery Management Plan (PDF) and letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (PDF) on the plan.
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