First Coast May Need to Help Bolster Key Industry - Fishing; Some Say Artificial Reefs Will Open Up Access for Anglers

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

First Coast anglers see fishing spots disappearing so quickly they say it's time to create new fishing grounds to bolster an industry that the state says brings half a billion dollars into the local economy every year.

Scott Shine, a member of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission, said he is looking into ways to add more access to fishing in North Florida before the economic impact does permanent damage to the recreational fishing industry.

A Waterways Commission subcommittee has been formed to examine adding artificial reefs just offshore and in the St. Johns River.

The federal government has closed several offshore fishing spots in recent years because of depleted fish stocks. There are also large tracts of water that have been placed off limits to vessels around military installations for security reasons.

"While we grow and while we're seeking opportunities for tourism, we're not growing our access to waterways on the same level that we're experiencing in the growth in population," Shine said.

RESTRICTIONS

The recent restrictions cover hundreds of miles of ocean off the Southeast coast of the United States. Along the First Coast, those restrictions are hampering an industry that generates about $556 million a year for Northeast Florida, according to a report Shine drafted in January based on a 2010 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation analysis.

Shine based his figures on the North Florida share of fishing licenses sold in the state along with other factors, such as fishing industry tracking data the state agency used to develop estimates.

Recent federal regulations restricting offshore catches of grouper, red snapper and other fish are already beginning to take their toll on the area recreational fishing industry.

"We've been losing ground," said Vic Tison, who runs a charter boat fishing service and is chairman of the North Florida Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. "We're getting less and less areas to fish. Where's that going to leave us?"

Adding to the frustration for anglers is a restricted zone instituted around Mayport Naval Station last year.

With little public notice, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers added a 380-foot no-vessel zone on a 2 1/2-mile stretch of water surrounding the base. …