Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations

fishing

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary visitors are invited to dive, swim, snorkel, or fish; however, rules and regulations are in place to make sure that these activities only happen in ways – and at places – that are not harmful to sanctuary resources.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary uses a strategy called “marine zoning” to protect special habitat types such as corals, to avoid conflict by user groups such as divers and anglers, and to balance commercial and recreational interests with the need for a healthy ecosystem.

The summary of regulations that follows is only intended as a general reference to sanctuary regulations. These regulations have been separated into those that apply throughout the sanctuary and those that apply to specific sanctuary zones. The full text of the sanctuary regulations can be found at 15 CFR 922 Subpart P and should be referred to for more specific information. A copy of the regulations can also be obtained by calling any sanctuary office.

 

Sanctuary-wide Regulations

Regulations that apply throughout the entire area of the sanctuary, both in highly protected areas and general-use areas, have a focus on habitat protection, reducing threats to water quality, and minimizing human impact to delicate resources.

Note that the text below is intended as summary only; for the full text of sanctuary regulations, see 15 CFR 922 Subpart P.

With certain exceptions, the following activities are prohibited sanctuary-wide:

  • Moving, removing, taking, injuring, touching, breaking, cutting or possessing coral or live rock.
  • Removing, injuring, or possessing coral or live rock.
  • Discharging or depositing treated or untreated sewage from marine sanitation devices, trash, and other materials.
  • Dredging, drilling, prop dredging or otherwise altering the seabed, or placing or abandoning any structure on the seabed.
  • Operating a vessel in such a manner as to strike or otherwise injure coral, seagrass, or other immobile organisms attached to the seabed, or cause prop scarring.
  • Having a vessel anchored on living coral in water less than 40 feet deep when the bottom can be seen. Anchoring on hardbottom is allowed.
  • Except in officially marked channels, operating a vessel at more than 4 knots/no wake within 100 yards of residential shorelines, stationary vessels, or navigational aids marking reefs.
  • Operating a vessel at more than 4 knots/no wake within 100 yards of a “divers down” flag.
  • Diving or snorkeling without a dive flag.
  • Operating a vessel in such a manner which endangers life, limb, marine resources, or property.
  • Releasing exotic species.
  • Damaging or removing markers, mooring buoys, scientific equipment, boundary buoys, and trap buoys.
  • Moving, removing, injuring, or possessing historical resources.
  • Taking or possessing protected wildlife.
  • Using or possessing explosives or electrical charges.
  • Harvesting, possessing or landing any marine life species except as allowed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Rule (68B-42 F.A.C.).

 

Additionally, there are other existing state and federal laws regarding fishing and vessel discharges that apply in the sanctuary. Contact the appropriate agencies or organizations directly for more information on these laws.

State fisheries regulations are available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Federal fisheries regulations are available from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, or the National Marine Fisheries Service - Southeast Region.

Zone-specific Regulations

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary established the nation’s first comprehensive network of marine zones in 1997 after years of planning, design, and public input. The marine zoning plan for the Sanctuary includes five types of zones with varying levels of protection: Ecological Reserves, Sanctuary Preservation Areas, Wildlife Management Areas, Existing Management Areas, and Special-use Areas.

Marine zoning is designed to protect and preserve sensitive parts of the ecosystem while allowing activities that are compatible with resource protection.

Note that the text below is intended as summary only; for the full text of sanctuary regulations, see 15 CFR 922 Subpart P.

 

With certain exceptions, the following activities are prohibited in the Ecological Reserves (ERs) and Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs):

  • Discharging any matter except cooling water or engine exhaust.
  • Fishing by any means; removing, harvesting, or possessing any marine life. Catch and release fishing by trolling is allowed in Conch Reef, Alligator Reef, Sombrero Reef, and Sand Key SPAs only.
  • Touching or standing on living or dead coral.
  • Anchoring on living or dead coral or any attached organism.
  • Anchoring when a mooring buoy is available.
  • Bait fishing is allowed in SPAs by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary permit.

Additional regulation for the Tortugas South Ecological Reserve:

  • Vessels may only enter if they remain in continuous transit with fishing gear stowed (diving and snorkeling are prohibited).

Additional regulations for the Tortugas North Ecological Reserve:

  • Access permit required to stop or use a mooring buoy.
  • Anchoring is prohibited.
  • Mooring by vessel(s) more than 100 feet in total or combined length overall is prohibited.
  • No access permit necessary if vessel remains in continuous transit with fishing gear stowed.

 

The following activities are prohibited in Special-use Research Only Areas:

  • Entry or activity without a Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary permit.
  • Discharging any matter except cooling water or engine exhaust.
  • Fishing by any means; removing, harvesting, or possessing any marine life.
  • Touching or standing on living or dead coral.
  • Anchoring on living or dead coral, or any attached organism.

 

The following regulations apply in Wildlife Management Areas:

  • Public-access restrictions in these areas include idle speed only/no wake, no access buffer, no motor, and limited closures and are marked as such.

 

The following regulations apply in Existing Management Areas:

  • Check with the appropriate federal agency for applicable rules and regulations that apply in these areas.

Activities prohibited in the Key Largo and Looe Key Existing Management Areas:

  • Removing, taking, spearing, or otherwise damaging any coral, marine invertebrate, plant, soil, rock, or other material. However, commercial taking of spiny lobster and stone crab by trap and recreational taking of spiny lobster by hand or hand gear consistent with applicable state and federal fishery regulations are allowed.
  • Spearfishing.
  • Possession of spearfishing equipment, except while passing through without interruption.

Activities prohibited in the Great White Heron and Key West National Wildlife Refuge Management Areas:

  • Operating a personal watercraft, operating an airboat, or water skiing.

Twenty Wildlife Management Areas are co-managed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, marine portions of these Wildlife Management Areas may be designated “idle speed only/no-wake,” “no-motor” or “no-access buffer” zones or “closed”.

  • “idle speed only/no wake” zone:  prohibited from operating a vessel at a speed greater that idle speed only/no wake.
  • “no-motor” zone:  prohibited from using internal combustion motors or engines for any purposes. A vessel with an internal combustion motor or engine may access a “no-motor” zone only through the use of a push pole, paddle, sail, electric motor or similar means of propulsion.
  • “no-access buffer” zone:  prohibited from entering the area by vessel.
  • “closed” zone:  prohibited from entering or using the area.

Sanctuary Preservation Areas, Special-use Areas, and the Western Sambo Ecological Reserve are marked by 30" round yellow buoys. Tortugas Ecological Reserve is not marked. Wildlife Management Areas are marked by white and orange information/regulatory cylindrical spar buoys and signs.

Additional Information

Additional Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Administration and Legislation

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations, 15 CFR Parts 922, 929, and 937 (Federal Register, Vol. 62, No. 113, Thursday, June 12, 1997) (pdf, 107 kb)

Amendment to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations Revising the Boundary of the Northernmost Area To Be Avoided Off the Coast of Florida, 15 CFR Part 922
 (Federal Register, Vol. 66, No. 126 , Friday, June 29, 2001) (pdf, 44 kb)

Regulation to Establish a No Discharge Zone for State Waters within the Boundary of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, 40 CFR Part 140 (67 FR 35735) (pdf, 52 kb)

Changes to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations; Technical Corrections and Minor Substantive Changes, 15 CFR Part 922 (Federal Register, Vol. 74, No. 146, Friday, July 31, 2009) (pdf, 58 kb)

Marine Sanitation Device Discharge Regulations for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, 15 CFR Part 922 (Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 227, Friday, November 26, 2010) (pdf, 195 kb)

Marine Sanitation Device Discharge Regulations

 

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Zones

 

Tortugas Regulations

Tortugas Ecological Reserve Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Final Supplemental Management Plan (pdf, 4.4 Mb)

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations – Establishment of Tortugas Ecological Reserve, 15 CFR Part 922 (Federal Register, Vol. 66, No. 11, Wednesday, January 17, 2001) (pdf, 8.2 Mb)

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Regulations – Anchoring on Tortugas Bank, 15 CFR Part 922 (Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 158, Monday, August 17, 1998) (pdf, 34 kb)

 

Monroe County Regulations

Monroe County Recreational Lobster Harvesting Regulations (pdf, 485 kb)

Monroe County Spearfishing Regulations (pdf, 588 kb)

A Guide to Closed Areas for Commercial Spiny Lobster Trap Fishing (pdf, 1,426 kb)