There were no shortage of opinions Thursday among a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary committee on how they should go about planning for the future of closed areas and other fishing and diving regulations.
The first in the sanctuary's Ecosystem Protection Working Group meetings brought to bear the challenges facing the group. The opinions expressed by frustrated fishermen, dive guides and other leaders over how to best protect the Keys' most valued natural resource were often pointed.
Those present discussed the effectiveness of the sanctuary's current protected areas, the possible need for more protected areas, and whether to expand or shrink existing closed areas.
Officials are currently reviewing the sanctuary's management plan, which could lead to changes in regulations. Everything was on the table for discussion, said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton, who stressed the group needs to get to work developing real recommendations that will best serve everyone's interests -- a hard task.
Among the most vocal participants early in the discussion was Ernie Pitton, an Upper Keys trap fisherman and president of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, who called for better law enforcement of existing no-take and protected areas before additional changes are made.
"I see boats anchored in the coral on a daily basis," Pitton said. "Now, we're getting charged with making new zones when we have areas not getting protected now. They're not being enforced. I see it on a daily basis. It's frustrating as a fisherman. I'm not ready to give up (close) bigger zones because they're not being enforced now."