Dredging Referendum

KeysKeeper was in the forefront of efforts to oppose widening Cut B, the main shipping channel in Key West.
The issue was moved into the political arena by way of a referendum on the October 2013 ballot. The issue was being prosecuted by two political PAC’s – the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism (against the referendum and dredging); the “Just a Study” (for the referendum). 73% of Key West residents voted no to the study. In response to the overwhelming response of the 4,531 Key West residents who voted against the referendum, the City Commissioner in turn voted to notify the United States Army Corps of Engineers that it does not want the United States Army Corps of Engineers to undertake or commission future studies to consider the concept of widening the Key West Main Ship Channel, regardless of potential funding sources.

Personal Water-Craft Agreement

There has been a long standing, seasonal conflict in the waters directly around Key West between the jet ski tour operators and flats fishing guides.  The epicenter of the conflict is Sea Plane Basin.  Sea Plane lies along a route that circumnavigates Key West.  It is also a critical habitat for Tarpon moving up from the mouth of Northeast Channel; a place where they have historically rested before spreading out onto adjacent flats.  Simply, jet skies and Tarpon trying to rest don’t mix well.

KeysKeeper helped work out an agreement between the two conflicting parties by initiating discussion, and negotiating between them.  It helped that the 10 year Sanctuary review process is underway at the same time.  That provided a window of opportunity for both parties to reach an agreement that was satisfactory and that could be maintained by the Sanctuary and by FWC code enforcement people.

The ability to act as an intermediary in negotiating an issue can be valuable in dealing with environmental problems.  In this case, the issue was emotionally charged.  In other cases, it is important to be able to work with both sides, free from the positions that necessarily accompany the debate between larger or more public organizations.

Our experience is that “anti” organizations are not skilled at negotiating a “deal”.  Actually their opponents are often equally unskilled at negotiating with the “anti’s”.  KeysKeeper money comes with its direct involvement in seeking solutions through negotiation.

The implementation steps are ongoing, but a deal that works for all the parties is underway.  The PWC Agreement is a loyalty based agreement that has been presented to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association that which governs the FKNMS.

Below is the chart made by the Lower Keys Guides Association marking off the agreed zones.


BTT Mapping

National Marine Sanctuaries are areas that contain fragile environments and  special resources that are valuable to the nation.  Sanctuaries can be  established by an act of congress. They are regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A) under the 1972 Marine Protection Act.  Its mission is to promote comprehensive management of their special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, research, educational, or aesthetic resources.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is one of 14 National Marine Sanctuaries.  Within a National Marine Sanctuary there are different management areas that are governed to their special uses.  Regulations are reviewed and upgraded on a ten year cycle.

As part of the present 10 year review process for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust proposed a program to map areas that are sensitive fish habitats. KeysKeeper moved quickly to energize that program.  It answered the request from Bonefish & Tarpon Trust for funding for a position by providing backstop funding for the amount B.T.T needed to make the hire.  We did it on the spot.  That allowed B.T.T to act within days and get the program underway in a timely fashion to meet the Sanctuary timelines.

Ultimately B.T.T and The Nature Conservancy funded the majority of the effort, but KeysKeeper gave B.T.T the financial certainty it needed to get going at the most effective point in time.  The ultimate donation was modest, but the ability to step to a much larger amount quickly, and then let others take down parts of the “investment” at a more considered pace was important.

KeysKeeper sees a value in energizing programs within existing organizations by committing relatively small amounts of money to initiate or finalize the funding for those programs.  This can “jump start” worthy efforts and allow the sponsor organization to then take the time necessary to attract funding from traditional sources.

Further to the point of using existing organizations to achieve a larger goal.  KeysKeeper then worked with both BTT and the Lower Keys Guides Association to establish ground rules for the effort which were acceptable to fishing guides who are careful in disclosing their trade secrets  The following letter flowed from that effort. .  Lower Keys Guides Association Mapping and Zoning Areas letter sent to the FKNMS.

Bonefish Regulations

With the implementation of the new Bonefish regulations at the September 1st meeting of the FWC Commissioners, additional protections for Bonefish will come into effect.

As with the new Tarpon regulations, the new Bonefish regulations were months in the making.  Public outreach, data gathering, multiple commission meetings, all had to take place to arrive at the new regulations.

KeysKeeper participated extensively in the process.  As with Tarpon, the potentially volatile issue was the new regulations that surround the handling of caught fish and the impact those regulations would have on tournament rules.

The Lower Keys Guides Association moved quickly to support the new regulations.  KeysKeeper provided transportation for guides and attended the outreach event in Marathon.  All four directors of KeysKeeper flew to Tallahassee to attend the commission meeting where the draft language was discussed.  Two of the directors drove to Lakeland for the commission meeting where the new regulations where adopted.  KeysKeeper personnel represented the Lower Keys Guides Association at both these meetings.

The new Bonefish regulations are as follows:

  1. The tournament exemption permit which allowed for the transport of bonefish to a measurement scale is eliminated
  2. Florida regulations are extended to Federal waters.
  3. Hook and line is the only gear that can be used for bonefish
  4. Bonefish are still prohibited for harvest
  5. Temporary possession of a single bonefish is allowed for measurement, weighing, and photography, and then released at the site of capture


Bonefish populations have been declining in the Keys for decades.  There are a variety of explanations offered by the scientific community.  None are easily tested and an accurate, tested scientific explanation of the problem(s) is still years away.

KeysKeeper has worked with Aaron Adams at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and is proposing to work with BTT to initiate a major new thrust to act to solve the immediate problem – we need more replacement bonefish in the Keys. (Link to What’s Happening Now.)

Tarpon Regulations

The FWC will implement changes to the regulations governing the fishing for Tarpon at its September 1st meeting.  This will be the culmination of a multi-year process that involved FWC scientists, public outreach, and the commission meetings themselves.

A great deal of credit needs to go to Kenneth Wright the present chairman of the commission.  Ken will retire from the commission at its September meeting and his voice will be missed by everyone concerned with the preservation and protection of Florida wildlife in general and with Florida’s truly extraordinary fishery in specific.

KeysKeeper participated in this effort in several ways.

Part of the effort in adopting new regulations is a set of meetings conducted throughout the state as a public outreach effort.  FWC staff uses these meetings to gather comment and to anticipate problems with the proposed regulations.  For these new Tarpon regulations, the most potentially controversial issue was the impact that minimal handling requirements would have on tournaments.

The Lower Keys Guides Association quickly adopted a stance that supported the new minimal handling requirements.  KeysKeeper provided transportation for guides to the public meeting in Marathon (the meeting was held during prime fishing season).  Representatives from KeysKeeper also attended the public meeting and spoke in support.

There were, in addition, two commission meetings – one in Tallahassee; one in Lakeland.  The entire board of directors of KeysKeeper flew to Tallahassee for the meeting to adopt draft language (again held in prime fishing time).  And two of the directors drove to Lakeland for the meeting to adopt the draft language and pass the new regulations.  At both of these meetings, KeysKeeper people spoke for the Lower Keys Guides Association as well as for itself.

As in the case of Permit regulations, KeysKeeper joined Aaron Adams from BTT, and several other interested organizations in those meetings.

The New Regulations are as follows:

  1. All harvest of tarpon will be eliminated with a the exception of a Tarpon Tag at $50
    • Tarpon tags allow the transport or shipment of tarpon in pursuit of an I.G.F.A record but, are limited to 1 fish per year with a 1 fish per vessel limit
  2. Tarpon are allowed for temporary possession for photography, measurement of length and girth, and scientific sampling with the stipulation of any fish over 40″ must remain in the water
  3. Gear for Tarpon are restricted to hook and line only at all times of the year
  4. All Tarpon regulations apply in both State and Federal water
  5. Tarpon cannot be dragged, gaffed, or roped.

Visit FWC Tarpon Regulations


There are additional efforts that now can be brought to bear in expanding the protection of Tarpon.

1.  Tarpon do not get the same level of protection in other states that they now get in Florida.  In Louisiana they can be spear fished.  Protections need to be extended to these states and their Federal waters.

2.  Tarpon can be raised to yet a higher level of protection by making them a Federally protected game fish.  Once that is accomplished, we need to extend those protections to other places in the world where Tarpon exist.

3. The FWC has sent a letter to the IGFA requesting that that organization reexamine its standards for setting records so that new records can be set without the need to kill the fish.  If the IGFA will adopt such standards, then Tarpon can be made simply catch and release; no kill tags.

4.  A continuing discussion is required to make tournaments as minimally invasive and damaging to Tarpon as possible.  Tournaments should be taking the lead in minimizing the amount of time that a Tarpon can be “played” after hooking and in protecting Tarpon from the most damaging practices involved in getting the fish to the boat.

5.  More work needs to be done to ensure that we are protecting the food sources and environment that Tarpon need to thrive.

Permit Regulations

The present fishing regulations governing Permit have several elements that differ from those that existed prior to June 2011.  Some of these elements seem so obvious to people who fish for this specie that they may escape notice.  Nonetheless these new features of the regulatory landscape set the stage for further steps to protect and husband Trachinotus falcatus as the linchpin species of flats fishing in Florida.


1.) Permit are regulated as a separate species from Florida Pompano and African Pompano.  Prior to the new regulations, Permit were included with these two other species and fell under the same regulations.


Florida Pompano is a food fish and important to the commercial interests particularly in Northern Florida.  This left Permit in the dangerous position of existing within the same regulatory framework as a commercial species.


Further, the growth and spawning characteristics of Permit and Florida Pompano differ greatly.  For instance, these two fish reach maturity and are able to spawn at different sizes.  Pompano reach maturity at somewhere between 11 inches and 15 inches; Permit need to be much larger – more than 20 inches.


2.) The new regulations extend to Federal waters.  Prior to June of 2011, there were no regulations governing the take of Permit in Federal waters.  There were restrictions in some special areas governed by Sanctuary rules and the like, but otherwise, there were no protections at all.


Permit are now regulated in Federal waters off of Florida.  The FWC took advantage of the fact that a state is allowed to extend its regulations to Federal waters in the case where there are no existing Federal regulations in effect.


3.) Perhaps the most important feature of the June 2011 regulations is that they expressly state that no directed commercial harvest of Permit allowed.  There is a by catch allowance of up to 100 fish per day, but even that is not allowed in the Special Permit Zone.


4.) The new regulations create a Special Permit Zone.  The SPZ includes state and federal waters south of Cape Florida in the Atlantic, and south of Cape Sable in the Gulf.


Within the SPZ there is no catch of Permit under 22 inches allowed and no catch of any Permit allowed in the months of May, June and July (months that Permit are thought to spawn).  The only taking allowed is in the months of August to April and that is limited to 1 fish per harvester per day.


5.) In the waters other than the SPZ, the limits are greater and there is no closure during the spawn months.  There is a limit of 2 Permit per person; they must be within 11 inches to 22 inches with only one allowed to be greater than 22 inches and a vessel limit of only 2 Permit over 22 inches.

Read more on Permit Regulations