Sunday, October 12, 2008

More on Petition to Preserve Snapper Ledge

The Sunday, October 12th, edition of the Key West Citizen had a very nice article about the move to have Snapper Ledge off Key Largo declared a Sanctuary Preservation Area. That means spearfishing and hook-and-line fishing would be illegal there. To learn more about the specific initiative, please visit to view a lovely video that explains the concept.

While the intention of the article in the newspaper was noble, it further exacerbates a perception that this is about underwater photographers or marine environmentalists versus spearfishing enthusiasts. This IS NOT the case. Please see my response to Tim after seeing the article for the first time:

"Tim - Thanks for your efforts to bring public awareness to our request to make Snapper Ledge a conservation area, a "no-take" zone by means of a Sanctuary preservation Area. But, I am concerned that your front page article in The Key West Citizen implies an antagonism towards spearfishing, which is clearly not the intent of this iniative. Please allow me to address a few key points that are likely to be misinterpreted based on your article:

1. Headline - "Divers Want Ban on Reef" may be accurate in specific, I don't see it as totally accurate in spirit. Yes, SPA designation would make a very small area known as Snapper Ledge off-limits for spearfishing or hook-and-line, if I were writing the headline according to my personal intentions I would have said "Divers Want Protection for a Reef". I realize it is a small matter of semantics, but this is not about taking away rights from people, it is about bringing rights to a very specific and carefully designated marine ecosystem.

2. Original Motivation - I never said that particular shark that motivated my petition was a spearfishing incident. In fact, it almost certainly was not. If you look at my personal blog, which was the first public discussion of this incident, you'll see I did not lay the blame on spearfishing. Please see
Which is not to say spearfishing does not go on at Snapper Ledge. Obviously it does. But my strong motivation here is not any anti-spearfishing bias, a fact I address later in the comments section in that same blog:

The reality is that it is not meant to be a rant about spearfishing. Actually, most spearfishers are responsible, and truth be known, selective harvest by spearfishing is probably less destructive than hook-and-line. Combine that with the athleticism of those who spearfish as freedivers, and you have a sport that commands respect. It is not for me ... I don’t even eat reef fish because I don’t think there are enough reef fish anymore. I don't eat them and I don't kill them. But, again my argument is not with spearfishing per se.

I do, however, have a big argument with wanton massacre of our marine life. The shark that precipitated this petition was probably from a hook-and-line angler, as I mention in my blog. But, this is not the first time I’ve seen a nurse shark dead on the bottom at Snapper Ledge, and the other time was almost certainly a spearfishing incident. This reef is an absolute aquarium, unique throughout the Caribbean and Western Atlantic, and there is no “sport” to using scuba and a pneumatic speargun to shoot fish that are essentially puppy-dogs. Most places in the civilized world don’t even allow spearfishing on scuba, let alone in a place where the fish are so docile and plentiful like Snapper Ledge. Plus, the carnage brought on by the hook-and-line anglers here is rampant as well.

One brilliant concept of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is “zonation”. They have established specific zones of use for specific recreational groups. There are areas for hook-and-line and spearfishing, but there also needs to be Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPA).

The SPAs allow for a critical fish nursery, and actually help distribute fish to other nearby reefs, where spearfishing and angling is allowed. It is simply good stewardship of our reef to allow a safe haven for fish to become sexually mature and procreate.

A SPA does not discriminate between spearfishing, hook-and-line, and lobstering. It simply means “no-take”. I don’t want the entire Florida Keys to be a SPA, but I do absolutely endorse the concept of a few well-managed refuges for our fish, so we can visit in a benign, non-consumptive, role and get a sense of what our reefs could be like if left to their own means of balance, without human interference."

SEPTEMBER 17, 2008

3. The unique attributes of Snapper Ledge - If none of the points above resonate, here is what really matters:

For whatever reason Snapper Ledge is unique and spectacular. Not only by the context of the Florida Keys, but by comparison with other places throughout the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Western Atlantic. It deserves to be a "no-take" zone, to protect the marine life there, and as significantly, to create a marine nursery that may help populate nearby reefs that are not use-restricted by SPA designation. The dense and prolific marine life are spectacular here, more so than anywhere else in the Florida Keys. If we have a provision in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to create Sanctuary Preservation Areas, this one is particularly deserving. This too is an important distinction, because it is not a part of a broader plan to create more no-take zones. For me, this is about Snapper Ledge, a very small reef area; and I’d hate to have it get sidetracked with a perceived attack on spearfishing. That was never my intent and I regret it has morphed in that direction.

This is not about the desires of a photographer versus the desires of a spearfisherman or hook-and-line angler. This is about one specific place that for whatever reason is a rich and diverse marine habitat, and one which will further flourish under greater protection.

Thanks for your attention and understanding."

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