Anglers across Florida are seeing more fish, thanks to the collaborative benefits of the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), according to a joint release from the two agencies.
Researchers have spent five years examining how fish and other natural resources responded to the protection offered in the Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area, a 46-square-mile area within the park. Fishing and anchoring are prohibited in the area, which was created in January 2007. Their verdict is that the collaboration “has been a success, not only to local populations of fish, but for fisheries management across Florida.”
“I believe marine protected areas should only be implemented as a last resort, but, if one was going to be implemented, this was the right place to close and this was the right place to do the research,” said FWC Vice Chairman Kathy Barco. “They did it right. They talked with the fishermen and the other stakeholders.”
Using modeling techniques, University of Miami researchers predict that the spawning groups in the Tortugas supply larvae that settle throughout Florida waters, including the Keys, the West Florida shelf, and eastern coastal areas north of Miami. Research also shows that seagrass beds in the area serve as nursery grounds for many exploited reef fish species, such as red and black grouper.
Inside the Research Natural Area, researchers found the number and size of mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, red grouper and hogfish all have increased during the past five years.
Dry Tortugas National Park is about 70 miles to the west of Key West and includes 100 square miles of marine waters and seven small islands. Congress established the park to protect and interpret the exceptional biological, cultural and recreational values of the area, including its pristine subtropical marine ecosystem and intact coral reef community.
Despite its remote location, the park attracts more than 53,000 visitors a year for fishing, snorkeling, diving, bird watching, camping and viewing Fort Jefferson.
“These scientific findings are very encouraging and are exactly what we were hoping for when the RNA was established five years ago,” said Dan Kimball, Superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks.
The collaboration also brought about several advancements in mutton snapper research, including the first-ever observation of repeated mutton snapper spawning events at Riley’s Hump, a protected fish-spawning aggregation site in the Tortugas South Ecological Reserve.
Taken together, the results of the five-year science review suggest that the RNA has played a substantive role in enhancing exploited reef fish species populations in the region and, especially in the case of mutton snapper, likely contributed to the recovery of the spawning aggregations at Riley’s Hump.
An observation from the Activist Angler: The release did not mention when or if the prohibition would be lifted in the research area. Instead, it said this: "The FWC and NPS hope to continue this work well into the future."
I'm not suggesting that recreational fishing should be allowed right away in this case. But anti-fishing groups too often push for "marine protected areas" simply because of preservationist ideology, with no scientific rationale to justify their implementation.