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Write now to replace Bug Light

Bring back Bug Light campaign needs letters from fishermen

The removal last year of Bug Light, a popular bait fishing spot south of Key Biscayne, took anglers by surprise.

Instead of getting angry and thinking there was nothing he could do about it, Bruce Marx got busy.

First he saved the bent range marker, another bait spot slated for demolition.

After that unprecedented success earlier this year, Marx is working on putting a fish aggregating device, or FAD, where Bug Light had stood for 85 years.

All the Coral Gables attorney needs is 110 more letters and emails to go with the 90 he's already collected from recreational and commercial anglers, charter captains, tackle stores and conservation groups so he can make his case and get Biscayne National Park superintendent Brian Carlstrom to go along with the plan.

"He recognizes the importance of the structure," Marx said. "I think he has a willingness to try something."

The letters should talk about what Bug Light has meant to people and why a FAD needs to be installed.

"The idea of reaching out and doing what we did with the bent range marker is very applicable here," said Marx, who created the "Bring back Bug Light" Facebook page. "We had to explain to all the governmental entities why it was so important to keep the bent range. I figured you know what, we may as well do the same thing here.

"If we can get around 200 letters, this is not some crazy idea from a couple of people. If you do it this way, people realize it's got some teeth to it and they can't ignore it."

The Bug Light incident was a case of big government at its very worst.

The U.S. Coast Guard decided that it didn't want to maintain the structure, which had marked the entrance to Biscayne Channel in Biscayne Bay since 1929. Instead of seeking public input, the Coast Guard put its plan to remove Bug Light in its Local Notice to Mariners, which Marx said deals with hazards to navigation.

So no one who fished at Bug Light knew it would be removed last summer.

"When they ripped that thing out of the ocean, I was in shock. I was upset for days. I couldn't believe it," said Capt. Terry Claus of the Coral Gables-based charter boat Qualifier, who caught cigar minnows, sardines, speedos and blue runners there.

"When they did that, my phone rang off the hook. The guys from Broward and Palm Beach called me and said, 'Is this a joke? Did this really happen?'

"All kinds of people went there, not just charter captains. The mackerel fishing was unbelievable out there. I moved to Miami in 1973 and me and my dad would fish Bug Light then. It was always a place for families to go catch fish."

"Bug Light was as much an iconic structure for Miami fishing as the Orange Bowl was for Miami football," Marx said.

When Marx, who does maritime law in addition to his other duties for the firm of Marlow, Adler, Abrams, Newman & Lewis, asked the Coast Guard about Bug Light, he found out that the bent range marker in front of Government Cut also was slated to be removed as part of a project to dredge the cut (which has adversely affected bait fishing) and install new markers.

So he created a Facebook page and got support from anglers to keep that from happening. He also found a Coast Guard lawyer in Norfolk, Va., who told him the marker could be turned over to a local government.

Marx then wrote to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who, along with Deputy Mayor Russell Benford and the county commission, approved taking over control of the marker. Marx said it helped that he had "80 or 100 letters and emails of support from the fishing community."

Shoreline Foundation Inc., the company that was contracted to demolish the marker, held off on the project when Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, personally guaranteed the money that Shoreline would have received.

The fishing community raised about $140,000, which the Capt. Bob Lewis Billfish Challenge is using to pay the costs of maintenance and repair of the marker. The Coast Guard eventually transferred ownership of the bent range to the county and Shoreline, which Marx said reduced its fee by $10,000, was paid.

Barreto, who was the former chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Miami-Dade County is in the process of making the FWC the owner of the bent range marker as an artificial reef and the agency would maintain it.

He'd like to see the FWC work with the National Park Service to get a FAD installed at the Bug Light site.

"The way we see it evolving, the fishing community will support the state asking the park to put it back as an artificial reef for our fishing community," said Barreto, a Coral Gables businessman.

Even if you've never caught bait at Bug Light, it's worth sending an email for the park superintendent to Marx at bmarx@marlowadler.com. As Marx demonstrated with the bent range marker, agencies can do the right thing when the fishing community works together.

swaters@tribpub.com or @WatersOutdoors

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