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Sunday, Feb 19, 2017

For boaters, how much is too much?

I like no-motor zones. I've seen them work really, really well in too many places to create outstanding fishing — as well as protecting the delicate shallow-water habitat — to be an opponent of this increasingly popular management measure.
Some of the best and most effective no-motor zones are in the Bay area, such as those around Tarpon Key, but they work pretty much anywhere they're tried in terms of improved fishing for those willing to slow down and enter quietly.
There's no question that fish gather in these areas more often when they're not constantly disturbed by high-speed outboards. They follow more predictable travel and feeding patterns, and they're far easier to locate and catch.
In the age of catch-and-release fishing, limited no-motor zones are an opportunity, not a problem.
However, the program proposed in Everglades National Park is excessive and could be just the beginning in the eastern part of the United States for more of this restrictive and unneeded regulation by an increasingly distant federal management system.
The proposed plan would put as much as 33 percent of the shallows in Everglades National Park off-limits to operation by boats under power. Access would be permitted by push-poling or use of an electric trolling motor.
On the surface, that sounds good.
It works great in smaller areas where it's already in effect in state-controlled waters all around Florida, preventing unwise or unknowing boaters from motoring through the prime fishing areas, spooking all the fish and, not incidentally, chopping up the seagrass that is the very reason the fish are there in the first place.
No-motor zones are also good for manatees — part of the reason for the dramatic recovery of the species over the past 30 years — and for wading birds.
But some of the Everglades proposed no-motor areas cover several square miles and have no access channels. In effect, these will become not only “no motor” zones but no-fishing zones for the thousands who tow their flats boats to the popular park every year.
The increasing fleet of kayak anglers might like it in areas within reasonable reach of their paddle power, but many areas in the Glades are many miles from public access — so far away that a day-trip in a kayak would be impossible.
It's fair and reasonable to give paddle-powered craft some reachable areas where they won't have to deal with the competition, the wakes and the noise of powerboats. And you can bet those areas will attract fish in a hurry because of this lack of harassment.
However, shutting out the most traditional use of large areas of this vast water wonderland — which is unknown to almost anyone except the backwater anglers who visit there in powerboats — is unfair and unnecessary.
Modifying the plan to provide marked access channels where powerboats can come and go on plane — but not operate on plane within the prime shallow fishing areas — would be a solution that is better for fish and anglers. Local anglers and guides already have provided Everglades National Park management with maps offering suggestions on these access channels.
And while nobody gets everything they want in these negotiations, hopefully the lawmakers will give a bit more consideration to these users, who are probably the strongest proponents of fishery conservation for the park.
If you'd like to be part of the discussion, you can submit your thoughts via the official comment form: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=51890