On January 30, 2019, Everglades National Park made some significant changes to its entrance fees. In addition to charging higher prices, the new rules say that, for the first time, visitors coming in on boats will need to pay an entrance fee. This includes people shuttled by fishing guides.
The decision has caused a huge backlash from local fishing guides, who will be forced to make big changes in the way they do business. Not only that, but the fees are to go up again in 2020. Let’s take a look at what the Everglades National Park entrance fee increases mean for the fishing guides, and for the park itself.
Everglades National Park entrance fee increases:
Anglers who hire fishing guides to take them into the park will need to pay $30.00 per boat, or $15.00 per person. Alternatively, they may purchase an annual pass for $55.00.
Theoretically, anglers can purchase their passes at the park’s main entrance in Homestead, at the Shark Valley entrance station, or online. In practice, the online option seems like the only realistic one, at least for people coming in on boats. This means that fishing guides will most likely need to ask their customers to pay the entrance fees right there on the boats. That’s not as simple as it sounds.
Captain Charles Hertel aboard Master Dangler Charters explains:
“If I take a group fishing around Key Largo, and the weather turns bad, I have to find them another suitable spot. So now, when we enter the Everglades, I’m just supposed to say to each of them, ‘Please get your phones out and pay another $15?’”
This might be inconvenient, especially for fishing families, who could see their trip total skyrocket.
When asked how this might affect his relationship with clients Captain Charles said, “When you ask a family to pay an extra amount, which they didn’t plan for, your standing with them is bound to suffer.”
For fishing guides, the entrance fee bump is yet another cost on top of the annual Commercial Use Authorization (CUA). The CUA is a permit anyone running a commercial business in the park must have, and Everglades National Park hiked its price up just a few months ago.
Why the Park Increased its Entrance Fees
Everglades National Park has an $88 million maintenance and repair backlog. This includes repaving roads near the two Homestead entrances, fixing the sewage lift station at the Flamingo District, replacing boat markers along the Gulf Coast, repairing the visitor center damaged by hurricane Irma, and more.
With the 1.5 million acre preserve set to receive around $15 million from Congress this year, this leaves a big void to be filled. A void, park officials hope, their 1 million annual visitors are going to fill. According to the park, 80% of the money collected through entrance fees will to stay in the park, while the other 20% will go to national parks that receive no funding from Congress, like the Biscayne National Park.
And while many fishing guides contend that the new CUA pricing is a money-grab, park Superintendent Pedro Ramos sees the current plan as a concession. Why? According to him, the fees were increased by a lesser amount than originally planned. Here’s what the Superintendent said in his official CUA fee announcement last October:
In consideration of your suggestions, we have decided to make a smaller increase in the CUA fee than had been planned previously. We will be increasing the 2019 rate to a flat fee of $550 for all CUA applications… This change helps us get closer to our goals of providing better aids to navigation, continuing the ability of law enforcement officers to respond, and maintaining facilities on land and on water.
He went on to say:
In order to help further close the gap in our efforts to build and sustain a solid CUA program moving forward, CUA application fees for the following season, calendar year 2020, will be set at a flat fee of $850. We will stay at that number for the foreseeable future as we work to strengthen our program, as well as our relationship of mutual trust with you as partners.
Coping With Reality
Some guides were initially receptive to the new CUA fees. Now that the entrance fees have increased as well, they’re not so keen.
Captain Charles says,
“Look, I love the park, I want to see it do better. I walk a straight line, and would gladly give a $1,000 a year to keep it running, but having to ask clients to fork up the extra money is not the way to go.”
According to Captain DJ aboard AARedfishFelicity,
“This is just more money out of our pockets now. $350, $550, $850… and now the entrance fees – things are getting a little out of hand.”
When asked about how this will affect the way he runs his trips, Captain DJ said,
“Well, I sure won’t be asking my customers to pay for the new entrance fees. I’m going to cover those myself. But look, there are folks who do this for a living. Are you going to take money out of their pockets without even asking for their opinion?”
Commenting on the Superintendent’s announcement, he said,
“Nobody asked if we were ok with this. I understand that the park has to cover its maintenance. But you can’t just put your hand into the guides’ pockets. My main thing is that you need to listen to the voice of the people.”
Continuing to Battle
The Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association has energetically opposed the new entrance fees, with some of its members vowing to stop fishing in the park altogether. One of the more vocal guides opposing the decision is Capt. Larry Sydnor. Captain Larry and his wife, Sharon, have been campaigning for a revoke on the state and federal level for some time now.
The Sydnors say that, according to the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, “no fee of any kind shall be charged under any provision for use of any waters.” Apparently, this particular sentence disappeared in more recent revisions of the law. However, when mentioning entrances and entrance fees, the act only mentions “park lands,” and not “park waters.”
Despite the new fees, the Sydnors and many other fishing guides feel like the law is on their side and are still optimistic about rescinding them. No matter how the story unfolds, all anglers should take note, because its ending could very well set a precedent for national parks across the country.
What are your thoughts on the Everglades National Park entrance fee increases? Are you still planning on fishing in the park? Let us know in the comments below.