FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cheva Heck
News Releases 2004
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The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has obtained a settlement in the case of two men charged with placing debris into the waters of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to attract lobsters for commercial harvest.
“With this settlement, and the steps our state partners in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are taking to help us halt the dumping of debris to attract lobsters, we hope that we have seen the end of this type of destruction of our marine environment in pursuit of illegal profits,” said Florida Keys Sanctuary Superintendent Billy Causey.
On Sept. 20, 2000, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers observed Steven Rodger and Jacob Perry, both of Key West, Fla., placing materials meant to attract lobsters in the Gulf of Mexico near Key West. The officers seized their global positioning unit, which contained numerous saved waypoints of latitude and longitude coordinates.
NOAA investigated 147 waypoints and found that 120 of these waypoints marked sites with illegal debris on the seafloor. The illegal material included cut-up garbage dumpsters, concrete slabs and blocks, corrugated and flat metal sheets, wood blocks, car hoods and bathtubs. This debris was predominantly placed on top of existing mixed hard bottom and seagrass habitat, crushing hard and soft corals, seagrass, sponges and invertebrates. The large amount of unnatural habitat may also disrupt the natural migratory patterns of spiny lobster from the Gulf of Mexico to the reef tract, with potential implications for spawning.
To minimize damage to natural habitat and begin allowing these sites to recover, NOAA hired a contractor to clear debris at 114 of the 120 sites, removing 65 tons of material. Funds from vessel grounding settlements paid for the cleanup.
Under the consent decree, Rodger and Perry agree to pay $5,000 each to reimburse the government for response costs and damages. They also agree not to manufacture, possess or place artificial reef materials or debris within the sanctuary and agree not to catch lobster commercially within the sanctuary for five years.
Dumping materials of any type is a violation of sanctuary regulations, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Ocean Dumping Act and the Florida Litter Law. Additional state laws enacted after the date Rodger and Perry were cited make it illegal to transport materials that could be used to construct an artificial reef without a permit and outlaw the taking of lobster from unpermitted artificial reefs.
“Through the Division of Law Enforcement's mission, we are extremely dedicated to protecting Florida's natural resources and people through law enforcement,” said FWC Major Jeffrey Russo. “We take all fisheries enforcement issues within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary very seriously, and this effort shows our alliance with our federal partners is working.”
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1990, protects 2,896 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection manage the sanctuary.
The National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration, and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.
NOAA’s Ocean Service (NOS) manages the NMSP, and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving, and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. NOS balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats, and mitigating coastal hazards.
On the Web:
NOAA National Ocean Service: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/
Keys National Marine Sanctuary: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov