Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve Initiative

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Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve Initiative

Post by packeryaker » Fri Jan 24, 2020 7:26 pm

New legislation establishing a Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve in the coastal waters between Yankeetown and Anclote has been introduced into the Florida Legislature by House Representative Ralph Massullo (HB 1061) and Senator Ben Albritton (SB 1042). It would be added to the 41 existing preserves encompassing about 2.2 million acres under the Florida Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975. It’s a rather rare piece of legislation in that it would benefit the environment, marine resources, important fisheries, tourism, job creation and local economies all at the same time.

The legislation was filed at the urging of Citrus County and other constituents who recognize the rich biodiversity of the region’s coastal wetlands, their value in protecting water quality, their effectiveness as a buffer from storms and rising sea levels, and the biological and aesthetic value of preserving associated salt marshes, seagrasses, mangroves and other inshore habitats. More than 100 business owners in Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties, including scores of fishing captains, tourism operators, marine supply dealers, restaurants and tackle shop owners have come out in support of this initiative.

The proposed area would circumvent the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve near Crystal River, and close the gap between the existing Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve to the north and the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve to the south, thereby extending protection to a 60 mile contiguous stretch of outstanding submerged lands and unspoiled habitats along the Nature Coast for future generations to enjoy.

Drilling in the preserve would be prohibited. Dredging, filling and other alterations of physical conditions would be greatly limited, while all lawful, traditional public uses such as fishing and boating would be allowed. To the extent required, restoration and enhancement activities within the preserve and its tributaries, including stabilizing shorelines through the planting of natural vegetation, would be authorized.

This area supports important bird rookeries and nurseries for a wide variety of marine life and provides outstanding fishing, paddling, boating and other water related activities so critical to the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. Tourists from all over the world visit this area to observe and swim with manatees in the winter, and experience the Nature Coast’s underwater version of an Easter egg hunt for scallops in the summer. Bookings for guided fishing trips often fill up far in advance of season openings.

In other parts of Florida, decades of water mismanagement and nutrient rich runoff have devastated large portions of the state’s aquatic and marine resources. Toxic, guacamole-like summer slime events have become the new normal to our south. Recurring and increasingly persistent red tide blooms have exacerbated the problem. Fisheries for redfish, snook and seatrout have been closed to harvest to provide decimated stocks time to recover. Bait shops, tackle stores and other coastal businesses have had to close their doors.

Waterways along the Nature Coast haven’t escaped the effects of nutrient overloading, however, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers and action groups, conservation lands have been set aside and measures have been undertaken in an attempt to restore our bays and rivers to their former condition. Fish stocks are doing fine and water quality seems to be improving. Even our manatees seem to be happier as they chow down on their new found salad bar created through successful sea grass replanting efforts.

Given the environmental concerns and crowded conditions elsewhere in the state and the pending Suncoast Parkway Extension, Citrus County may be in for an influx of folks looking for a better place to live, work and play. As you plan for 2030 and beyond, hopefully you understand the role a Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve could play in maintaining the biological diversity and aesthetic values of our inshore area, and in supporting our tourism oriented, nature based economies.

Thanks to Senator Albritton and Representative Massullo for championing this legislation. The respective bills have been referred to the appropriate committees for action during the 2020 legislative session.

Please consider drafting letters of support for this legislation.

Gary Rankel

Gary Rankel aka PackerYaker
Peaceful Paddles, Bracing Battles and Happy Landings
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Re: Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve Initiative

Post by captkenroy » Sat Jan 25, 2020 9:17 pm

Obviously you haven't been here long. Water quality in Crystal River has gone so far down hill that I'd never considering swimming in it. King's Bay receives the effluent of the Crystal River sewer plant and the muck on the bottom in the bay is beyond foul. Oyster bars off the mouth of the Withlacoochee are, for the most part, dead. I wouldn't eat any oyster found in Withlacoochee Bay from Cedar Key to Yankeetown.

Other than the Net Ban, there has been precious little to improve fishing. Perhaps the greatest improvement has been the Snook population. Grouper and Cobia population are a mere fraction of what they were in 2000. In fact, I expect to see a total ban on Cobia harvest in the next year or, if not, expect to see the fishery totally collapse, if it hasn't done so already. The same holds true for Gag Grouper. I doubt if the near shore population is 1/100 of what it was in 2000 and infinitely smaller than the population pre-1977 and LORAN C. If a total ban on Grouper Fishing isn't instituted very soon, the population will collapse. The population is at a critical level right now.

More and more people fishing with better and better equipment for fewer and fish is the problem. Not commercial fishing and definitely not all of the
Goliath Grouper ("eating all of the Grouper") I've fished the Gulf of Mexico for 70 years and the area between Anclote and the Withlacoochee River exclusively since 1975.

Between 1978 and about 1984, I am ashamed to admit how many hundred Jewfish I harvested for the market. When I realized that they were being shot out really fast, I totally quit harvesting them and strongly advocated their protection. Score one for fish. The population has rebounded hugely but not to where it was in the 60's. I haven't killed a Jewfish since the 80's but my charter clients sometimes caught several in one day. They are plentiful enough within an easy paddle to target them from a yak.
Capt. Ken

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