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Curbelo: Bay guides face ‘heavy burden’ under fee plan

Charter captains and boaters in Florida Bay waters of Everglades National Park could be affected by new regulations.
Charter captains and boaters in Florida Bay waters of Everglades National Park could be affected by new regulations. Keynoter/Reporter

Citing concern about “stifling fees and excessive regulation” on Florida Bay fishing guides, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami and the Keys) urged Everglades National Park managers to seek “a solution that works for our community.”

Florida Keys guides who frequently take charter-fishing clients into Florida Bay waters within Everglades National Park have objected to a pending rule change that would require charter anglers to buy a separate pass into the park.

“The initial proposal would place a heavy burden on these small charter businesses that are not only critical to our local economy, but also play an essential role in sharing and preserving the beauty and ecological importance of the Everglades with visitors from around the world,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Curbelo, who represents the Keys.

At an Aug. 8 Key Largo meeting with Everglades staff, guides also voiced concern over a Commercial Use Authorization fee, needed by anyone who profits by using a national park. Currently, the annual commercial fee for using the park’s 1,100 square miles of Florida Bay is $250 a year. That fee would increase to $1,000 annually and possibly higher, depending on revenues.

Following the contentious comment session in Key Largo, attended by about 100 guides and private boat operators, a smaller group of guides representing professional associations recently met with park Superintendent Pedro Ramos and Assistant Superintendent Justin Unger.

“We told them that we’re not saying the cost has to stay at $250, but make it something feasible,” said Lain Goodwin, president of the Key Largo Guides Association. “If they need money, we understand. But asking Florida Keys fishing guides to subsidize [the park’s] operational budget, that’s not fair.”

“Our biggest concern is making it easier to facilitate getting permits for our clients,” Goodwin said. “We’ll give you more money but don’t make it harder on our clients. The people we bring into the park are taxpayers, too.”

As outlined beginning in 2018, Everglades National Park would require charter-fishing clients to go online to purchase a seven-day “walk-in” pass of $12 to $15. Guides would have to inform customers of the charge, then talk the anglers through the purchase process.

“Our clients are all ages and come from all over. They have different technical-skill levels, so now I’m doing technical support for people having problems,” Goodwin said.

Guides suggested an up-front flat annual fee to cover park entry for all their charter clients. Another option would have the park create a book of individual entry permits for guides to sell anglers. Park managers agreed to consider suggestions but made no commitment, Goodwin recounted.

“We love the park and want the best for it, but this is not about protecting the resources,” Goodwin said. “Let’s find a way to take care of the park while being fair.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

An Aug. 24 statement from the office of Dist. 26 U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami) on new Everglades National Park proposals to increase fees on Florida Bay fishing guides and their anglers: Congressman Curbelo “has been actively engaged with the local fishing community and the National Park Service to determine a way forward.

“The initial proposal would place a heavy burden on these small charter businesses that are not only critical to our local economy, but also play an essential role in sharing and preserving the beauty and ecological importance of the Everglades with visitors from around the world.

“[Our] office is working with the Park Service to help these businesses grow. Fundamental to that growth is avoiding stifling fees and excessive regulation.

“Congressman Curbelo looks forward to continuing to engage both local stakeholders and constituents dependent on fishing charters as well as the National Park Service until we get to a solution that works for our community.”

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