Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:32PM - Comments: (17)
I don’t want to come down too hard on the good people at Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission; many of the underpaid, overworked officers seem genuinely interested in doing the right thing. But the most recent survey, and the accompanying “informational” video (above) preceding it, lead me to believe that the FWC has been puffing swamp gas again.
Where to begin?
I suppose a bit of background is in order. Anchored boats are an egregious nuisance to some Floridians, many of whom apparently don’t realize that Florida is surrounded on three sides by water, that the sea might be a source of income or means of transportation for some people, and that some boats actually stay on the water after the sun goes down. Most complaints are linked to so-called “derelict” boats. The definition of “derelict” seems to vary according to which side of the shoreline you are on; but the term increasingly is being used to apply to any boat that does not conform to the yachting ideal—a pristine hull that reflects and briefly satisfies an insatiable desire for new and shiny things. More dangerously, the term also is being applied to the non-comformist who owns the boat in question, rather than the vessel itself.
By the 1980s, this “anchoring situation” became so intolerable to some local communities that instead of enforcing existing anchoring rules, they enacted new laws designed to scrub their waterfronts to a fairy-tale gleam. These local anchoring restrictions ranged from draconian to incomprehensible, and all were impossible to enforce. By about 2005, several Florida communities had their own set of rules, creating a biblioteca de Babel of legislation that a made as much sense as a Yonomami shaman running Thursday night bingo.
In 2009, responding to lawsuits and pressure from boating groups, the state reluctantly stepped in to quash the local restrictions, bringing back a semblance of uniformity (or anarchy, depending, again, on which side of the shoreline you stood). Boaters once more were permitted to pillage and burn the length of the peninsula and (dear heavens) anchor pretty much wherever the heck they pleased. Meanwhile, landlubber ire again bubbled to a boiling point.
This brings us to today, with the waterfront whiners in full-squawk mode and six municipalities testing six different approaches to putting boaters back in marinas and mooring fields where they can be fleeced of their last dime. These “pilot programs” are having varying degrees of success, depending upon which side of the cash register you are on. One of these programs is in our own backyard, and its implementation has had a discouraging impact on local sailors, virtually assuring that sailing remains an activity out of reach of people of modest means.
The temporary pilot programs will expire in 2017, but Fish and Wildlife, catching a whiff of more conflict and legislative insanity on the horizon, is trying to prevent another nosedive down the rulemaking rabbit hole by “partnering” with the public with some “public hearings” and a “survey.” The presumed aim of these efforts is to develop some more permanent, sensible rules, that will placate the landlubbers without infrurating boaters, particularly cruisers who regard the whole inane charade as—well, a charade.
I wrote about the so-called “hearings” hosted by FWC back in September. So let’s see about the survey, which will only available online during the days bracketing Thanksgiving (Nov. 21 – Dec. 7), and was so poorly publicized that Fish and Wildlife Commission did not even issue an announcement on its own news page until three days after the clock started ticking. I imagine very few media outlets will cover the survey until the comment period expires. Getting anything in print before Dec. 7 is virtually impossible for any boating magazine.
For those still unclear on the anchoring controversy, the survey is preceded by an informational video that is supposed to clarify things. Instead of enlightening the public to both sides of the issue, however, the informational video is blatantly one-sided, portraying anchored boats as an alien race infringing on the rights and joys of the greater, peace-loving public. The aggrieved parties alluded to in the video include a proverbial dad who wants to teach his kid to water-ski but can’t because those blamed anchored boats are in the way (since this is a Fish and Wildlife video, he can’t gripe about manatee zones), a homeowner who feels his privacy is invaded because boats are anchoring in the well-protected anchorage near his waterfront estate, and unnamed marina operators who fear the next rain squall will bring a fleet of anchored boats upon them and cause inestimable harm.
At no time during the video do we hear about the FWC officers harassing law-abiding boaters in Boot Key Harbor, the importance of having accessible safe anchorages, nor does it explain that existing laws already deal with the most common complaints. And of course, there is no discussion of the historical and necessary legal protections afforded to boats engaged in navigation—which, in theory, are exempt from the proposed rules, but in practice are often swept up in the net. Instead, participants in the survey are served up a series of questions and suggestive photographs that do nothing but paint anchored boats in an abhorant light—as if we’re all a bunch of freeloaders intent on littering the seascape.
I suppose by sneaking the survey into Thanksgiving week, Fish and Wildlife was hoping to minimize the number of responses its staff would have to tally. I’m hoping you help me out by proving that assumption wrong. Share a link to this blog or the survey itself with anyone vaguely interested in anchoring rights, then take a couple aspirin and dive into the survey yourself. It takes about 15 minutes to complete—after you suffer through the video. In my opinion, uniform statewide rules are the best solution, but I'm not convinced there's need for any more than those that are already on the books. Answer as you please, but don't be dismayed if the FWC ignores the whole shebang.
Warning: The survey may ruin your appetite, so leave an adequate buffer before serving up the bird.