Fisher attorney claims more closed marine areas has already been decided, federal sanctuary official calls it ‘absurd’

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A prominent Key West attorney this week launched a barrage of verbal volleys about the process to update rules in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

“They have already made their decisions” on new marine protected areas, David Paul Horan said Thursday from Key West.

“These are areas up to 25 square miles where there will be no recreational or commercial diving or fishing,” Horan said. “They’ll close it forever. The only thing you can do is drive your boat across.”

No decisions have been made about any possible closures in the ongoing process to update the sanctuary’s management plan, the first major update since the current plan was created in 1997.

Horan, representing a group of Key West charterboat fishermen, spoke at a Wednesday meeting of Key West Chamber of Commerce and a Tuesday meeting of the Keys Sanctuary Advisory Council on Duck Key.

Horan said he suspects a controversial set of maps drafted in mid-2013 by members of a Sanctuary Advisory Council working group provide a blueprint for future plans.

Marine sanctuary managers insist nothing has been decided about marine zones or regulations for the sanctuary’s management plan.

“There are no secret maps,” sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton said Friday. “There have been hundreds of proposals put out, but no one has yet recommended any proposal over another. Everything is being analyzed.”

“This has been an incredibly open process with a lot of meetings,” said Billy Causey, southeast U.S. and Caribbean regional manager for national marine sanctuaries after decades as the Keys sanctuary superintendent.

“All the information is up [on the sanctuary website] for people’s review. It’s all public,” Causey said Thursday. “It amazes me that after doing all this, some people think we’re hiding something. It’s absurd.”

Causey and Horan have often disagreed over sanctuary policy since federal legislation created the sanctuary in 1990.

Horan said Keys residents strongly supported rules to force ships to move away from the coral reef to prevent devastating groundings. Three large ships grounded on coral within weeks in late 1989.

“Basically we were asking for a glass of water and got an atomic weapon” in the form of the Keys sanctuary, Horan said.

Horan, best known for winning Mel Fisher’s case against the federal government over recovered shipwreck treasure, contends the sanctuary is using ecosystem-protection rules as a way of managing fisheries.

Morton and Causey said some regulations, like acting to ban wire fish traps in sanctuary waters, do affect fishing but are not fishery management.

Proposals for the management plan are undergoing state and federal review. The first set of draft alternatives, which legally require a no-action alternative, are expected to be released in summer or fall of 2015.

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