The topic of discussion focused on the future protection of wildlife refuges at the Lower Keys Guides Association (LKGA) recent annual meeting and dinner. Held in the Sugarloaf Firehouse meeting room, the fishing guides attending re-elected Capt. Luke Kelly, Capt. Drew Delashmit, Capt. Bob Paulson and new director Capt. Doug Kilpatrick to the board of directors. Then the discussion began, questions were posed and the opinions expressed brought about even more questions.
“LKGA invites all local fishing guides to become involved as we prepare to address possible changes in the sanctuary and refuges through an online survey,” said Kelly, the new president of the non-profit organization. “We represent more than 100 local fishing guides and speak on their behalf at the many agency meetings where the future of sport fishing and much more is being decided,” he said. The organization also has the support of anglers from around the world. “Many of them are clients who come to the Keys several times a year to fish the flats and want to keep doing it,” said Kelly.
Recently, LKGA raised $10,000 for the Guides Trust Foundation with its first tournament, Sugarloaf Showdown, held last October. The foundation aids fishermen in need following an accident or illness. LKGA has also launched a campaign to address the diminishing number of barracuda in the Keys, established fish handling guidelines for successful catch and release, as well as rules for boating etiquette. “Our priority right now is the review of the sanctuary and possible changes in the refuges,” said Kelly. “I encourage all fishing guides with an interest in these waters to get onboard. There are many opinions and ideas out there, but fishing guides are on the water every day. That’s why we are surveying our guide members – to compile all that knowledge and refine our approach.”
“”I’ve spoken to many guides, both members and non-members, and each time I learn more about the issues that are important to them” said director Nate Linville, who leads the association’s outreach.
“By doing this survey, we are offering the diligence due. We want everyone to weigh in before we make our stand official,” said Capt. Dale Bishop, LKGA’s treasurer.! !
“This organization is not about the opinions of a single individual,” former LKGA president Capt. John O’Hearn told fishing guides at the annual meeting. “It’s about members and coming up with the best conclusion to protect and improve the sport fishing experience and the millions of dollars a year it contributes to the local economy.”
A peer review study commissioned by the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust concluded that the total economic impact of the Florida Keys fishery exceeds $460 million annually. Capt. Will Benson, vice president of LKGA, said the group’s mission is about sustaining fisheries, habitat and the cultural heritage of sport fishing in the Keys. “What we do is not just fun, it is important to the ecology and economy of the Keys,” he said.
Kelly said the LKGA survey, which addresses issues ranging from channel markers to restrictions in the refuges, will be going out to LKGA guide members in mid-April. To become involved or receive information, write to email@example.com.