State giving money to improve boating access

Cell phone service coming to Everglades National Park

Does your county or municipal government keep saying it would love to improve boating access to the local waters if only the money were available? Call up your council and commission members to remind them Florida has a Boating Improvement Program of grants to help pay for access projects and other boating-related stuff on both coastal and inland waters.

Tell them to hurry up: applications have to be submitted to FWC before the close of business on March 31. Besides access facilities like ramps and docks, eligible projects include marking recreational channels, removing derelict vessels, boater education and more. State agencies also are eligible for these grants. Can someone prod South Florida Water Management District into using this to fix up and reopen public ramps it abandoned and barricaded years ago for lack of funds or lack of will?

Here’s a double nomination for the big ramp on the L-30 canal beside Krome Avenue and the small one at Black Creek, both in Miami-Dade County.

For more info and application forms, go to the FWC website,, and enter the letters FBIP in the search blank. That stands for Florida Boating Improvement Program. Here’s a direct web address:

Marina expansion

Miami’s two city marinas on the west end of Virginia Key are in preliminary stages of what promises to be significant expansion and updating. The Miami Herald reported in February that three companies have responded to the city’s request for proposals.

The intention is to raise the number of wet slips from 198 to 498, give or take a few, build a launching ramp and chip in $3.45 million for a parking garage of 45,000 square feet. Both marinas are reached by road from the Rickenbacker Causeway, west of Marine Stadium.

Bidders were told the city wants to be paid rent of $2.15 million a year and a percentage of gross sales during a 45-year lease period.

Two of them already are involved in local marinas. Aabad Melwani, who runs the Rickenbacker Marina, applied in the name of New Rickenbacker Marina. Bob Christoph, who has the Miami Beach Marina and River Cove, heads a bidder named RCI Group.

The third bid came from a Dallas company, Suntex Marinas.

Two existing restaurants, Whiskey Joe’s and Atlantic Seafood, are inside the redevelopment boundary. The Rusty Pelican, at the western tip of the property, is not.

Details of the separate proposals have not yet been made public. The process is being run by the city’s Real Estate and Asset Management department.

Fishing changes on the horizon

A lot of changes are in the works for Florida fishing regulations — on black and gag grouper, Gulf red snapper and largemouth bass. Some simplify. Others complicate.

Grouper first: The changes are on the Gulf side, with higher minimum sizes and a longer season.

The minimum size for gag and black grouper, which are hard to tell apart, has been raised from 22 inches to 24, matching the minimum for Atlantic fish.

The season this year will begin on June 1 and run to the end of the year. Last year’s Gulf season for gags and blacks was July 1 to Dec. 2 in federal waters and Dec. 3 in state waters — except those of Franklin, Taylor, Wakulla and Jefferson counties in the Panhandle, where the season was (and still is) April 1 to June 30.

Luddites disdaining GPS need to know that Florida waters in the Gulf extend 9 miles from shore. If they’re really really good at dead reckoning, they’ll sense when they’re pushing it. In the Atlantic, state waters end 3 miles offshore.

Although Monroe County (the Keys) juts far into the Gulf, its grouper season is included in Atlantic rules — closed since Jan. 1 and scheduled for reopening on May 1.

Red snapper next: A draft rule scheduled for approval in April by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Commission keeps the pattern of recurring weekends for the Gulf season.

You can start keeping reds there during the first three weekends of May. From the fourth Saturday, May 28, the season will be open daily until July 10. Then it will be open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to the end of October, plus Labor Day.

We’re not positive the minimum red snapper size of 16 inches total length or the bag limit of 2 per person will stick or be changed. Taking no chances, keep tabs at Once there, click on saltwater fishing, then recreational regulations and finally on snappers.

At last, black bass: As expected, FWC has approved simplified new regulations that eliminate separate rules for three geographic zones and for 42 specific sites statewide.

The key change is for largemouth bass, the state’s signature freshwater fish. Instead of letting the little ones go, you will be able to keep them without feeling guilty — or at least not being guilty. For now, you still have to release the big ones, keeping only one that’s 16 inches or longer.

The idea is that in some areas, reducing the populations of smaller fish will reduce competition for food, so that other small bass can grow larger. Your limit will remain at 5 per day. Tournament anglers still can bring a limit of big ones to the scales, but then they have to be released.

This takes effect July 1, not 16 as we mistook last month. Further upstate the Suwanee, Choctaw, shoal and spotted basses still have a 12-inch minimum length for keeping.

Beam up the cell phones

We know a Naval Reserve commander who led his sailors on a team-building jaunt deep into Everglades National Park, considerably beyond the visitor center that stands about 12 miles south of Florida City.

“Sir, can we use our cell phones to call home?” several of them asked. “Sure, go ahead,” said the officer, an experienced backcountry guy who knew they had crossed into the Twilight Zone of no cellular coverage. He smirked while the astonished sailors discovered it one by one.

AT&T is the only cellular service that penetrates south of the visitor center, and the coverage down there is spotty, but change is coming. Verizon wireless has applied to the National Park Service to build a new tower from which signals will reach at least to West Lake.

Verizon will have to tear down an old tower, built in 1981, that doesn’t comply with state building codes and is rated unsafe. There’s no timetable yet.

The new tower’s design would meet emergency 911 requirements, support communications for the Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey, FPL, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and other wireless phone services. The design is self-supporting, eliminating guy wires that keep the old tower upright.