U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service | Southeast Region News Release
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Manatee Conservation Measures to Guide the Development of Future Watercraft Access Projects

Public Input Sought on Draft Manatee Guidance for Watercraft Access Projects in Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 16, 2001

Contact:
Kalani Cairns, 561/562-3909, ext. 240
Christine Eustis, 404/679-7287

For pictures and more information; Florida Manatee

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed an interim strategy for future watercraft access projects in Florida that may indirectly impact the Florida manatee. The strategy relates to the Service's responsibility to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the Corps considers permit applications for watercraft access projects like docks, boat ramps, marinas, etc.

"More than one million watercraft operators use Florida's waterways annually and the popularity of watercraft recreation is continuing to grow," said Jay Slack, Field Supervisor of the Ecological Services Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Vero Beach, Florida. Last year, 30 percent of manatee deaths were the result of collisions with watercraft. "Trying to protect manatees from watercraft collisions is one of the most important things we can do to help recover the manatee."

The goal of this interim strategy is to provide guidance in determining appropriate conservation measures for eliminating any adverse effects on manatees due to the development of watercraft access projects which include marina developments, slips, docks, ramps, launches, dry storage facilities, moorings, and other similar structures.

Florida manatees are a federally protected species under both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, as amended, both of which prohibit the "take" of protected species. "Take" as defined by the ESA, section 3(19), means "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct." "Take", as defined by the MMPA section 3(13), means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, capture or kill any marine mammal." The act further defines "harassment" as any pursuit, torment, or annoyance which - 1) has the potential to injure a marine mammal; or 2) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal. Incidental Take is unintentional or accidental take which might occur during an otherwise lawful activity. To date, the Service has not developed MMPA regulations to describe under what circumstances the incidental take of a Florida manatee would be authorized, if any.

This strategy is considered interim because it is designed to provide guidance prior to the possible development of incidental take regulations under MMPA. The Service believes that a watercraft access project can be designed so that take from boats using the watercraft access facility is unlikely to occur. This strategy does not authorize the take of manatees, but instead provides guidance on measures that may be taken to reduce the likelihood of incidental take to a not likely to occur level. The Service believes that the most important factor in preventing take of manatees is increased law enforcement through increased manatee speed zone enforcement.

Under this strategy, the Service will evaluate projects on a case-by-case basis. When evaluating a project, the Service must find that:

  1. adequate speed zones exist in the areas reasonably anticipated to have increased watercraft traffic as a result of the project;
  2. signage in these areas is adequate to ensure that boaters are aware of the speed zones; and
  3. speed zone enforcement in these areas is, or with project-related conservation measures, will be sufficient to prevent watercraft collisions from occurring as a result of the project.
  4. these conservation measures are or will be in place prior to the project's implementation.
For single family watercraft access projects the Service, based on the best scientific and commercial data available, may find a financial contribution from an applicant to an organization or entity that participates in and/or funds manatee conservation actions is consistent with the guidelines.

The Service believes that expanded law enforcement efforts would ensure that an increase in watercraft traffic from a proposed facility would not likely result in the incidental take of manatees due to collisions. This increase in law enforcement would provide added benefits to the manatees by ensuring that those watercraft already on the water would also obey the speed zones currently in place.

"Increased manatee speed zone enforcement is the most important conservation effort we can take to get to a point where life threatening collisions between manatees and boats are unlikely to occur," said Slack.

Recovery of the manatee in Florida depends on numerous factors but one of the most important is reducing manatee mortality. This strategy will help to ensure that some watercraft access facilities can be permitted without increasing manatee mortality from watercraft collisions.

"No one activity alone can recover the manatee. We must work together as a community to recover the manatee," said Slack.

The Service is requesting public comment on this interim strategy, which was published in the Federal Register on March 14, 2001. Written comments should be sent to the Field Supervisor, South Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida 32961-2676 or via electronic mail to verobeach@fws.gov. Comments must be received by May 14, 2001. Copies of the strategy may be obtained from the address above, by calling the office at 561/562-3909 x240, or via the internet from http://northflorida.fws.gov.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 531 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.




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2001 News Releases

   
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