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Divers applaud move to ban tropical fish removal from renowned diving site

Divers applaud move to ban tropical fish removal from renowned diving site (Jim Abernathy)

A controversy over a world-renowned diving and snorkeling site in Palm Beach County recently came to a head with a CBS12 News investigation.

Now, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has stepped in, banning tropical fish removal from around the Blue Heron Bridge and Phil Foster County Park.

In June, local divers asked FWC to ban the taking tropical fish from the unique and world-famous diving spot.

But the issue escalated in October with a CBS12 News investigation into a Texas aquarium’s removal of at least several dozen tropical fish.

Cell phone video showed divers standing at a box truck, parked at the bridge, loaded with big containers of fish.

Turns out a Texas aquarium, Moody Gardens had a $25 special state permit, allowing it to harvest some 4,000 fish from four South Florida counties for exhibition purposes.

The aquarium maintained it took just more than 60 specimens on its October stop at Phil Foster Park.

Soon after, the FWC modified the aquarium’s permit to exclude the Blue Heron Bridge.

This week a number of representatives of Palm Beach County agencies and diving businesses attended the FWC meeting in St. Augustine, most encouraging commissioners to approve the new restrictions.

The FWC ended up approving draft rules prohibiting collecting and possessing marine life from a designated area just north and south of the Blue Heron Bridge and Phil Foster Park, east of the Intracoastal Waterway channel.

Diving guide James Welton called it the right move.

“This is one of the most popular dive place is in the county, and there’s always people here,” Welton said. “It’s a good idea to protect what they’re here for.”

CBS12 News encountered Welton at the Blue Heron Bridge after he and a customer emerged from the water.

“I saw lobsters, eels, a stingray, scorpionfish,” said Mikko Leino, Welton’s customer who hails from Finland.

Leino said he was in town on another matter, but had heard about the diving in Palm Beach County, so he hired Welton to show him around.

“Very different from what I’ve seen elsewhere,” Leino said.

Besides Leino from Finland, in a span of just minutes, CBS12 News also found divers and snorkelers from North Carolina, Boston, Philadelphia and Tampa.

“Very unique dive place,” said Welton. “Lots of species here that we don’t see offshore, where a lot of diving activity typically takes place.”

The prohibition approved by the FWC does not apply to hook-and-line fishing.

Although the Palm Beach County divers at the FWC meeting overwhelming backed the new measures, some said the closure area should extend further north of the park.

The rules approved this week will be back before the commission for final approval in February.

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