Policy Update Oct 13, 2016

Position on Biscayne Marine Reserve Legislation

NPCA has taken the following positions on legislation related to a proposed marine reserve in Biscayne National Park.

Biscayne National Park is truly a natural wonder. It is our country’s largest marine national park and home to part of the third largest barrier reef tract in the world. Unfortunately, the park has experienced a dramatic decline in native fish populations and in the health of its fragile coral reef ecosystem. The National Park Service (NPS) decided to take action to conserve the park’s imperiled marine resources. After more than 15 years of scientific analysis, public input (of 43,000 pieces of correspondence received, 90% were in support of a marine reserve), and coordination with the State of Florida, NPS announced plans to create a no-fishing marine reserve to protect the park’s coral reef ecosystem.

The marine reserve in Biscayne is small—just 6% of a park that is 95% water—but will have a big impact and still allow recreational fishing opportunities through most of the park. Marine reserves are based on science and protect reef fish and corals, reducing impacts from overfishing, derelict fishing gear, and damage from boat groundings and anchors. Moreover, a marine reserve in Biscayne will benefit the local economy, improving local fishing and diving opportunities.

However, special interests, such as the fishing and boating industry, remain opposed to a marine reserve in Biscayne, despite strong public and scientific support. Now, Congress has introduced a slew of legislation in an effort to block the marine reserve. These bills would have wide-ranging impacts on not only Biscayne, but on numerous national parks around the country.

H.R. 5771, Conserving Our Reefs and Livelihoods Act of 2016 (CORAL ACT) (Rep. Ros-Lehtinen R-FL)

This legislation includes unnecessary and damaging language that undercuts the protection of coral reef ecosystems in America’s national parks. Although H.R. 5771 contains some positive provisions, Section 302 of this bill would block the National Park Service (NPS) from fulfilling its primary mission of preserving the resources and values of the National Park System, including its coral reefs. The provision undercuts the Park Service’s ability to protect marine and coastal resources in 88 coastal national parks around the country by preventing them from implementing actions to protect the resources of our national parks. Section 302 would elevate recreational and commercial fishing access above all other interests in our national parks and prioritizes the use of state science in decision-making, rather than the typical standard, “best available science.”

It would block the creation of a desperately needed marine reserve in Biscayne National Park, our country’s largest marine national park where only six percent of corals are still alive and some reef fish populations are on the verge of collapse. Additionally, Section 109 directs funding to industries affected by reef degradation, taking much-needed money away from active coral restoration, conservation, and recovery.

Without the damaging provisions in Sections 109 and 302, the CORAL Act would provide some benefits for coral restoration and conservation. Specifically, we support the provision in Section 101 that allows for the quick release of emergency response funds for rapid response to and study of coral disease and bleaching events. We also support expanding the focus of the law to allow federal agencies and their partners to play an active role in restoration and recovery (Section 201).

Overall, NPCA opposes H.R. 5771 and asks its sponsors to revise the proposed legislation by removing Sections 109 and 302. We also urge all members of relevant House Committees to oppose H.R. 5771 and encourage bill sponsors to revise the legislation based on our concerns.

H.R. 5771 can be reviewed here.

S. 3099, Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016 (Sen. Nelson D-FL)

This legislation prohibits the implementation or enforcement of restrictions on recreational, charter, or commercial fishing in Biscayne National Park if measures were adopted after December 31, 2014. It requires any restriction on fishing to be developed through a park fishery management plan, despite the fact that restrictions on fishing can be necessary for a variety of safety and conservation goals beyond those traditionally covered in a fishery management plan.

The new fishery management plan must be developed in formal consultation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission—essentially giving the state veto authority over NPS actions—and developed for the sole purpose of fishery conservation and management. Under the founding legislation of Biscayne National Park, the Secretary of Interior has the authority to regulate fishing in the interest of sound conservation and to maintain the purpose for which it was established. This legislation would prevent NPS from upholding the park’s enabling legislation.

NPCA strongly opposes S. 3099 because it would block the creation of the marine reserve, allowing continued damage to the fragile coral reef ecosystem for which the park was created to protect. Not only would S. 3099 interfere with the NPS’s ability to protect Biscayne National Park, but it did not proceed through regular order in the Senate. The bill did not receive a hearing and is being pushed to a vote without input from valued stakeholders.

S. 3099 was introduced on June 23, 2016 and was voted out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on June 29, 2016. S. 3099 can be reviewed here.

H.R. 3310, Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act (Rep. Ros-Lehtinen R-FL) and S. 2807, Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act (Sen. Cassidy R-LA)

These bills require coordination with, and approval by, State or territory fish and wildlife management agencies before a federal agency can restrict recreational or commercial fishing access to any State or territorial marine waters or Great Lakes waters under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. H.R. 3310 also includes waters under the jurisdiction of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

NPCA strongly opposes these bills because they would interfere with the Park Service’s ability to uphold its legal duty under the 1916 Organic Act to protect and manage resources in parks across the country for all Americans to enjoy. The proposed legislation would hinder the Park Service’s duty and commitment to preserve our national parks by substituting a national standard of protection with a state level standard—meaning state approval will be required for any restrictions made to fishing in 88 coastal national parks. Possible necessary restrictions could include closures for nesting shorebirds and wildlife or for protecting public safety. NPS is already required to consult with states on fishing regulations and usually follows state regulations unless there is an ecological reason to set a higher protection standard, such as population depletion or damage to critical habitat.

The federal government is obligated to protect the resources of our national parks for the benefit of present and future generations. This legislation would overturn the many years of resource protection of our coastal parks and undermine the federal government by requiring state approval for issues concerning national parks.

H.R. 3310 was introduced and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee on July 29, 2015. It was added as an amendment to H.R. 2406, Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, which passed the House on February 26, 2016. Click here to view H.R. 3310.

S. 2807 was introduced on April 18, 2016 and received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks on June 15, 2016. Click here to review S. 2807.