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Reef protection could change SoFla waters

Posted: 7:27 PM, Jun 01, 2016
Updated: 2016-06-02 04:09:47-04

A group called Our Florida Reefs is pushing for changes that would help protect 105 miles of South Florida's coral reef, but it could come at a cost for the local fishing industry.

State officials and community leaders are meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Coconut Creek to discuss plans to help better manage local reefs.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection set up the Our Florida Reefs project. For the past two years, group members have been researching ways to help dying reefs.

Members of the group are stakeholders from Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. They include business leaders, dive professionals, fishermen, environmentalists and county leaders.

Soon, the group will pass on recommendations to the state legislature and city and county leaders.

"It involves everything from water quality to overfishing to the impacts from beach projects and coastal construction," says Tom Warnke, group member and founder of Palm Beach County's Surfrider Foundation.

The group's proposals to curb overfishing are drawing controversy, however. Members are proposing changing some regulations and even closing off some popular fishing spots close to shore where fish like grouper and snapper spawn.

"They begin their life in very shallow water," Warnke says. "If we don't protect what happens in the shallow water, then those fish don't have that chance to get out to the reefs."

The group Keep Florida Fishing worry nearly a fourth of the reef tract from Stuart to Miami would become protected and off limits.

"One of the driving economies of South Florida and Florida in general is our recreational saltwater fishing," says fishing show host and Keep Florida Fishing spokesman George Poveromo. "If this ever goes through, it's going to have a major impact."

Poveromo says he worries prohibiting one of Florida's most popular watersports in some areas could also overcrowd other sections of reef that stay open.

"You eliminate fishing pressure off one stretch of reef, it'll double or triple on the next one," Poveromo says.