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Keys shutdown outrage: Guides banned from fishing much of FL Bay in Everglades Park


M_everg2The federal government's partial shutdown doesn't just involve memorials and park paths -- it also includes massive stretches of water in Florida Bay in the jurisdiction of Everglades National Park.

Florida Keys fishing guides are hurting as a result, especially in the Upper Keys, which abut the park. Islamorada fishermen held a protest Wednesday.

Park rangers say don't blame them; their orders come from Washington.

It's also tough for some people to understand how the federal government can close navigable waters (they're closed to fishing, not navigation).

Some fishing guides feel as if they're being made an example of; noting that they're seeing more ranger patrols now that the park's waters are "closed." It is interesting that the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which the anti-federal voters of the Keys rejected in a 1996 straw poll, remains open.

Democrats are outraged, blaming the House for precipitating the shutdown. Republicans are outraged, blaming President Obama's administration for trying to make the shutdown as painful as possible.

"We don't need a resolution to keep the waters open," said state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo. "They're being targeted."

But a shutdown's a shutdown. Things close.

Here's today's story from our Keys reporter Cammy Clark:

Each day at noon, Capt. Matt Bellinger usually does his local radio fishing update from somewhere in the back country of the vast Everglades National Park, where he takes clients to fish for snook and tarpon or photograph birds and other wildlife.

He always ends his updates with his mantra: “Get on the water. And go fish!”

But on Wednesday, sunny with calm seas and a gentle breeze — a perfect day to be out on the water — Bellinger could not take clients to his beloved fishing grounds. Like all 401 national parks, the Everglades National Park was closed by the government shutdown.

So instead of fishing, Bellinger took his flats boat to Cowpens Channel, where about 150 other boats gathered to protest the closure of the marine park.

“I’ve lost $10,000 in canceled trips that I’ll never get back,” said Bellinger, whose Bamboo Charters runs two boats. “I’m already into my war chest to survive.”

Capt. Randy Towe, a fishing guide in the Keys for 35 years, organized the peaceful rally to send a message to Congress that the Oct. 1 shutdown has affected far more people than just furloughed federal workers.

“The point we’re making is that a guide’s booked fishing day that is cancelled is revenue that is gone and we’ll never get back,” Towe said. “We don’t have an insurance claim to fill out. It’s lost revenue because of the government’s poor handling of everything. This closure has already done a lot of damage to good, innocent people.”

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