Written by Leslie Taylor
BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK – One recent morning at Biscayne National Park, a biologist in scuba gear hovered near a reef, a waterproof clipboard and pencil at the ready to record fish swimming into view. Her pencil rarely moved. There just weren’t that many fish to count.
That kind of lackluster reef experience is partly why the National Park Service wants to phase out commercial fishing in the park, which is almost entirely comprised of the bay and reefs between downtown Miami, a waterfront nuclear power plant south of the city and the Gulf Stream. Ninety-five percent of the 172,000-acre park is under water, and its primary appeal to visitors is the opportunity to encounter marine life through snorkeling, diving or recreational fishing and boating.
Officials say ending commercial fishing there will improve the numbers and sizes of snappers, groupers, wahoo, mackerel and hogfish.
“Right now it’s pretty rare to see a large grouper and it’s very exciting because they’re so uncommon, but in reality they should be present on the reefs all the time,” said park biologist Vanessa McDonough.
But critics say federal officials are punishing fishermen for polluted runoff from the land that reduces water quality. They say closing off the park would devastate South Florida’s commercial fishing industry, putting people out of work and putting more pressure on fisheries elsewhere.
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