Keys tourism would suffer from federal shutdown

Losing access to Florida Bay waters inside Everglades National Park during a federal government shutdown could harm fishing guides and tourism overall.
Losing access to Florida Bay waters inside Everglades National Park during a federal government shutdown could harm fishing guides and tourism overall. Keynoter

Florida Keys backcountry guides have not forgotten the lost days of 2013, when large parts of the the federal government closed due to the federal government not passing a budget.

“It was brutal,” Key Largo fishing captain Lain Goodwin said Tuesday, recalling the closure of Florida Bay inside Everglades National Park.

The possibility of another federal shutdown returned this week with Congress trying to come to terms on a federal budget extension that won’t be blocked by President Trump. Without action by midnight Friday, many federal agencies would close.

Those agencies include Everglades National Park and Florida Keys national wildlife national refuges. All boaters, including guides who specialize in fishing Florida Bay’s shallow waters, were banned from 1,100 square miles of park waters during the 16-day shutdown in 2013.

“As we learned a couple of years ago, it’s all a gimmick, a game” for politicos in Washington D.C., said Steve Friedman, commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association. “Unfortunately, they’re playing with our livelihoods. And it winds up costing [the government] more money to keep us out instead of letting us do our jobs.”

A sticking point in the federal budget debate includes the Trump administration’s demand for some funding for the proposed border wall with Mexico. Many members of Congress either object to spending on the wall or do not consider it a priority. Funding for the Affordable Care Act also is in the mix.

The 2013 shutdown took place in October. A spring shutdown would be worse, fishing guides say.

“May is the busiest time for everybody,” Friedman said. “We’re talking about hundreds, maybe thousands, of guides.”

“It’s tarpon season and the weather is better,” Goodwin said. “I’m booked for seven straight days.”

Resorts and restaurants also would suffer, the guides noted. “A shutdown just is not good for anybody in the Florida Keys,” Goodwin said.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary closed its offices and furloughed workers during the 2013 shutdown, but sanctuary boat trips to the Florida Keys reef were not affected.

Sanctuary patrol officers work for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission under the sanctuary’s partnership with the state. Sanctuary managers could not be reached at press time.

The U.S. Coast Guard would continue its regular water patrols off the Keys as a military agency exempt from shutdowns, said Capt. Jeffrey Janszen, commander of Coast Guard Key West sector. “Our personnel will be out there still providing border security and drug enforcement,” he said.

Some Coast Guard civilian staff considered non-exempt could be furloughed, he said.

Air-traffic controllers and airport security would remain on duty during a shutdown, although travel times could be affected, news reports indicate. Passport applications could take longer to process.

Social Security checks will be mailed and the U.S. Postal Service remains in operations, but the Internal Revenue Service will stop issuing refunds and not complete audits. Overall, an estimated 800,000 federal workers nationally would be sent home during a shutdown.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206