COLLIER COUNTY — A dozen Collier County fishing guides made their case to state regulators Tuesday night to keep exemptions from manatee slow-speed zones.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is proposing to drop most of the permits for the exemptions that apply in state speed zones intended to protect the endangered sea cows from boat strikes.
The Conservation Commission took input on the proposal in an auditorium at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Learning Center in Naples.
Fishing guides said not having the exemption would mean they could not access shallow-water fishing spots and would be able to fit fewer charters in a day.
Taking away the exemption couldn’t come at a worse time given the economic slow-down, said Marco Island Charter Captains Association President Fred Lifton.
“I think you ought to make charter fishermen an endangered species because we’re really getting hurt,” Lifton said.
The guides suggested that the Conservation Commission allow the exemptions only during the summer, when they see fewer manatees but have more tourism business, or buy back the exemption permit as a way to compensate fishermen for the economic hit.
Protecting their livelihood doesn’t mean they don’t favor protecting the environment too, fishing guide Todd Geroy said.
“If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this business,” Geroy said. “We have a strong fishery here and it would be a shame not to share it with people.”
The Conservation Commission has issued 36 exemption permits in Collier County, according to state figures.
The exemptions only apply when fishermen or fishing guides are using their boats for work. They don’t apply on weekends or holidays.
Under a recommendation in Florida’s 2007 statewide manatee protection plan, the state would issue exemption permits only for commercial fishermen setting their nets.
The Conservation Commission is set to discuss the proposal at its December meeting in Clewiston, and a final decision could come in 2010.
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Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/