Agitated by the Washington budget impasse that has closed the waters of Everglades National Park, fishing guides in the Florida Keys spearheaded a rally Wednesday telling Federal officials to give them back their fishing grounds.
Participants aboard more than 100 boats, kayaks and paddleboards gathered near the park’s eastern Florida Bay boundary, less than a mile off the Keys.
Although Keys state and offshore waters remain open to anglers, fall is a prime season for visitors to fish in the park’s shallow waters for prized gamefish such as mangrove snapper, snook, tarpon, redfish and trout.
The park’s land and water areas have been closed since Oct. 1. Fishing guides who depend on the resource for income have lost money and are frustrated with Washington leadership’s bickering and inability to pass a budget to reopen all Federal resources. They add that, while they find no fault with officials based at the park, they are insisting that Department of Interior officials do something to provide reasonable access, especially if a budget solution is not reached.
“The park being closed means we can’t go fishing, that means we can’t make any money, and that means the days of fishing we are losing, we don’t get back,” said Randy Towe, a 35-year Florida Keys fishing guide who organized the protest. “Although we have offshore fishing, which is still good and that’s all fine, but a lot of people come to specifically fish in the backcountry for its beauty for the different species of fish.”
Towe said that more than 500 people participated in the rally to send a message to Washington.
“These are all people of the Keys, these are guides, these are bartenders, these are mates, they’re captains, they’re store owners, they’re hotel owners, residents, so it’s everybody getting together to stand up for what’s going on because this really needs to get resolved before it gets any worse,” he said.