Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science

Degree Name

Marine Science

First Advisor

Matthew Johnston

Second Advisor

David Kerstetter

Third Advisor

Ross Boucek


Flats Fishery, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Marine Special Area, Propeller Scarring, Seagrass


The recreational flats fishery in the Florida Keys is a significant component of the marine resource-based economy, exceeding $465 million (USD) in annual economic impact. Permit (Trachinotus falcatus), bonefish (Albula vulpes), and tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) are the three main species targeted by flat fishers. Those participating in this fishery generally practice catch-and-release angling therefore, the fishery is considered a more sustainable marine use compared to more traditional commercial fisheries. However, with population and tourism rising in South Florida, the fishery is increasingly threatened by habitat degradation and user conflicts. Ongoing revisions to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary plan creates a unique opportunity to inform management officials of new science describing potential impacts to the flats fishery. This study used a semi-quantitative approach by incorporating local stakeholder information to assess the overlap of flats fishing with boater impacts to better inform management officials of heavily used areas. The extent of flats fishery habitats was compared with multiple anthropogenic stressors such as seagrass propeller scarring, boat ramp locations, and proximity to densely human-populated islands. Results indicated that flats fishing in the Lower Keys was heavily concentrated near bayside mangrove-fringed islands in areas where there was a lower density of seagrass scarring observed. Areas of high scarring included shallow water areas near boat ramps and nearshore areas close to the main islands in the Lower Keys. Ongoing revisions for the Restoration Blueprint provide ample opportunity to deliver the information from this study to help ensure the stability of an economically valuable and culturally important fishery.