Florida expands marine reserve to largest in North America; fishing banned in 261 square miles

Wednesday, November 15th 2006, 6:36 am
By: News On 6

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The largest marine reserve in North America is emerging on Florida's southwest coast.

Gov. Jeb Bush and his Cabinet voted 3-1 on Tuesday to approve a management plan banning fishing in a 61-square-mile section of Dry Tortugas National Park in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits about 75 miles west of Key West.

The new Research Natural Area will be added to the existing Tortugas Ecological Reserve, where fishing has been prohibited since 2001. Combined, the two areas will prohibit fishing in 261 square miles.

The plan is designed to help overfished species such as grouper and red snapper recover. It also will provide scientists with a living laboratory, and divers and other visitors with recreational and educational opportunities.

``It's good for the fish; it's good for the ecosystem; it's good for fishermen,'' said University of Miami marine biologist Jerald Ault, who testified in support of the plan.

The only dissenting vote was cast by Attorney General Charlie Crist, also Florida's governor-elect.

``I am reluctant to restrict a freedom from individual recreational fishermen and fisherwomen,'' Crist said, who spoke fondly of growing up fishing with his father.

Bush and the Cabinet added a provision that would restore fishing after five years without another vote.

The research area is so far from shore few recreational fishermen go there, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto.