Kai Lorenzen, Susana Hervas, Chelsey Crandall and Joy Hazell
Executive Summary Fishing is an important recreational, social, and economic use of coral reef ecosystems in Florida. Fishing affects reef-associated fisheries resources and the wider coral reef ecosystem; however, fishing stakeholders can also be powerful voices for reef conservation. Effective engagement of fishers in the conservation of coral reef ecosystems is crucial to ensure coral reef resources are managed in a sustainable manner that ensures their values will persist in the future.
Fishing stakeholders were included in the Our Florida Reefs (OFR) Community Planning Process but their participation proved difficult to sustain and several fisheries-related recommended management actions (RMAs) were subsequently opposed by fishing interests at the state and federal levels. The Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) therefore resolved to undertake a situation analysis in order to evaluate past issues with engagement of the fisheries sector and develop a new engagement process aimed at filling this gap.
The objectives of the situation analysis were to: (1) Identify and characterize stakeholders in relation to fisheries management in the Florida Reef Tract, known as Southeast Florida Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area (ECA), (2) Characterize stakeholders’ experiences and attitudes related to engagement in fisheries and conservation management efforts, and (3) Develop a stakeholder engagement plan and process that will be used in a subsequent project to inform fisheries management approaches in the ECA. The situation analysis was based on forty-five stakeholder interviews and review of additional information.
Results showed the perceived existence of distinct “angler” and “diver/environmental” networks. The groups involved in these networks are by no means homogeneous, but they engage in information exchange, building of advocacy alliances, and facilitation of access to influential actors. The “angler” network includes marine industries, recreational fishers, fishing charter operators, and commercial fishers. The “diver/environmental” network encompasses dive operators, divers, and environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs). Stakeholders also perceived the two Florida state agencies most involved with coral reef ecosystem conservation to be effectively associated with different networks, despite them striving to be “fair arbiters” of stakeholder interest and concerns. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was perceived by many interviewees to be associated with the “angler” network, while the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) was perceived to be associated with the “diver/environmental” network. The “angler” network also perceived the “diver/environmental” network to be the driving force behind OFR (an FDEP project) and in control of the process.
Fishing stakeholders see overfishing as an important threat to coral reef ecosystems, but perceive several other threats to be more important and therefore a higher priority for management to address. Nonetheless, about two-thirds of fishing stakeholders (e.g., anglers, spearfishers, and charter captains) perceived the impacts of fishing to be important or very important. Environmentalists and divers perceived fishing to be the most or equally most important threat to coral reef ecosystems and therefore attach a higher priority to fisheries-related conservation measures than do fishing stakeholders.
All interviewees supported fishing regulations (size, bag, and seasonal limits for harvest of fish) in principle. Many also mentioned support for gear (e.g., lobster trap) or anchoring restrictions. By contrast, attitudes towards spatial management and to MPAs in particular were complex and conflicted.
The most fundamental issue with the OFR process from the perspective of fishing stakeholders was the perception that that OFR and the lead agency FDEP are part of the “diver/environment” network. The fishing stakeholders therefore felt marginalized and disempowered from the start. Lack of understanding and consideration of the perception and dynamics of the two networks among users of the ECA prevented the process from adequately addressing fisheries-related issues and recommendations.
Creating a more balanced environment and process was seen as crucial to more constructive engagement by multiple interviewees from the “angler” network. Other ideas to improve future engagement of the fisheries sector focused on logistical aspects of meetings that could promote greater participation from the sector.
Based on the findings of this situation analysis and in consultation with FDEP, CRCP 8 Project Team developed a set of recommendations for a new engagement approach and process for fisheries stakeholders of the ECA. The aim of this process is to harness the capacity of the fishing community (i.e., fishing stakeholders and industry) to advance conservation of the ECA. This capacity includes knowledge/experience, outreach/advocacy, and standing and commitment to achieving conservation outcomes for fisheries resources and the coral reef ecosystem.
February 9, 2022 - 10:33am
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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.