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Public Water Access Key Issue For Boaters In South Florida

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Boaters need more public access to waterways, particularly in South Florida, while the state needs to address the behavior of new boat operators, industry leaders told wildlife commissioners Wednesday.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members received a wide range of suggestions from people involved in commercial boating and sport fishing during a nearly two-hour online discussion, with public access to the water being one of the biggest issues.

"Dade County is not the bellwether for the state of Florida by any means, but on any nice summer weekend, all of the public boat ramps in Dade County are closed by eight o'clock, 8:30 in the morning," said Joe Neber, president and owner of Contender Boats. "It requires a police presence to actually do traffic control. … It's kind of a restricting factor on people actually wanting to get on the water because the average citizen in the state of Florida doesn't live on the water and doesn't have access at will to the water."

Neber also suggested additional boater education for people getting new licenses and permits tied to boating.

"If you're an active boater and you've been boating since COVID started, you've seen a marked increase in the amount of boat traffic that's on our waterways, and you've also seen a pretty marked increase in a lack of etiquette on the waterways," Neber said.

Paul Kabalin, owner of Engel Coolers in Jupiter, suggested revisiting some slow zones in the Intracoastal Waterway, noting the link to limited water access for many boaters.

"If you have limited access to the ocean, and if you have a half an hour ride suddenly kicked to an hour's ride, then engagement drops off dramatically," Kabalin said.

The commission took no action on the suggestions.

Commissioner Rodney Barreto of Coral Gables suggested a joint venture between the state and local governments to open more boat ramps, while he said he would also like the commission to revisit shark-related rules.

"The shark issue is an issue that I hear every day," Barreto said. "I get calls and complaints from all my friends who are divers and fishermen that the sharks are proliferating out in the waters and that we need to do something."

The state has spent years trying to rebuild and maintain shark populations. The state prohibits harvesting 26 species of sharks and last year prohibited shore-based anglers from using fish parts, bones, and blood to attract sharks.

The discussion was put together because of a "significant" increase in sales of licenses and boats, said Stasey Whichel, the commission's deputy division director of freshwater fisheries.

The commission on Wednesday also reviewed a draft proposal for the 2021 legislative session that would address issues such as anchoring rules, the removal of "repeat offender" derelict vessels from state waters, and safety-related items including a noncriminal prohibition on bow riding, which is when a person sits on the bow with a foot or leg over the side of the vessel.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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