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Fishermen lobby to save bait spots

South Florida’s recreational fishing community has begun a feverish lobbying campaign to prevent the demolition of one of its few nearshore live-bait fishing spots and to replace a high-profile structure that’s already gone.

A contractor for the U.S. Coast Guard last month tore down Bug Light, a defunct navigational marker in the ocean off Cape Florida that for about 80 years attracted pilchards, threadfin herring, blue runners and fishermen from as far away as Islamorada and Palm Beach to catch live bait for sailfish and other game species.

The Coast Guard has also awarded a contract to a local company to dismantle all four range markers that guide big ships through Government Cut into the Port of Miami and replace them with tall, thin poles. Those old range markers, particularly a storm-damaged structure about 1 1/4 miles from the cut’s north jetty known as the “bent range,” are supported underwater by wide tables with legs that also attract a variety of live bait.

Shoreline Foundation Inc. of Hallandale Beach is slated to begin replacement work in mid-September with completion in late October.

Meanwhile, recreational anglers and charter captains are scrambling on both fronts: trying to save the bent range while laying the groundwork for installing a fish attracting device, or FAD, at the site of the former Bug Light.

“This is no joke. I’ll build it myself. I’ll pay for it myself,” vowed captain Jimmy Lewis, a lifelong Miamian who made his living selling bait caught at Bug Light to other fishermen. “My phone is ringing off the hook with, ‘What can I do to help?’ ”

Former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chairman Rodney Barreto has gotten involved, enlisting the Tropical Anglers Club to apply for county, state and federal permits to install a FAD where Bug Light used to be. Because the site lies within Biscayne National Park’s boundaries, Barreto has arranged a meeting this week with park superintendent Brian Carlstrom and Shoreline Foundation’s Ben Mostkoff, who served as Miami-Dade’s artificial reef chief in the 1980s and ’90s, to get the park’s blessing.

Barreto also has contacted FWC executive director Nick Wiley, asking for help to convince the Coast Guard to leave the bent range intact.

“I agree FWC should be helping with this,” Wiley wrote Barreto in an email pledging his support.

Miami maritime attorney Bruce Marx also is in the mix, pointing out that leaving the bent range marker in place is best from a safety standpoint because it will divert fishermen from congested areas inside Government Cut.

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Barreto said the entire South Florida recreational fishing community needs to get behind the two-pronged effort.

This story was originally published August 16, 2014 7:12 PM.

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