Next step OK'd for manatee protection zones

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
November 21, 2014 7:32 pm

fwcseal2.pngNew protection zones for manatees in western Pinellas County moved closer to final approval Thursday at a meeting of the FWC commissioners in Key Largo. But stakeholders who consider the measures excessive will get at least one more say.

The commissioners approved the next step in a winding legal process: publishing the proposed rules, which affect boaters and some waterside businesses in 46 miles of inshore waterways. The proposal would create 21 slow-boating areas stretching from the mouth of the Anclote River to Egmont Key.

The new measures intended to reduce manatee boat strikes involve a mixture of year-round, warm-season and cold-season no-wake and minimum-wake zones, according to a 34-page recommendation to the commissioners.

“Through our analysis of manatee and boating data, we believe the proposed zones will provide improved protection for manatees while causing a relatively small effect on boaters’ travel time,” said Carol Knox, head of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section.

After the proposed rules are published, a public comment period will begin and at least one public hearing will be scheduled, the FWC said. The seven commissioners then will take final action.