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Booth holds a shimmering permit

Time:2018-05-16 03:46Shoes websites Click:

miami game fishing key west stiltsville

One of Miami Beach's cool new restaurants, a laid-back fish shack named for Biscayne Bay's iconic stilt houses, aims to serve fish so fresh that its celebrity chefs claim much of the catch comes from the docks across the street.

Just one problem: A trophy fish that sport fishermen have long fought to protect wound up on the menu.

Last week, Miami New Times reposted a picture taken in November of Stiltsville Fish Bar chefs Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth gripping two large fish. In the picture, Booth holds a shimmering permit, a game fish found on South Florida's endless shallow flats, beloved by anglers for its powerful runs and fierce fight, and almost never featured on menus.

"It’s like seeing marlin at the grocery store," said Capt. Steve Friedman, commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association. "In no way, shape or form should they be selling it in a restaurant."

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McInnis, a Top Chef contestant and founding chef behind Yardbird, another popular Miami Beach restaurant with downhome fare, at first said the fish was an African pompano, which can grow to a similar size but is more closely related to jacks, found around deep wrecks and less restricted.

"Whoever it is who’s telling you [it's a permit] doesn’t know what they’re talking about," he said. "I know a lot about fishing, dear. I’ve grown up fishing my entire life. I don’t do that kind of stuff."

But Friedman and Aaron Adams, a marine biologist and chief scientist at the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, both identified the fish as a permit.

"There’s no doubt that was a permit," Adams said. "It’s great that local restaurants want to source locally for their seafood, but if they’re going to do that, they have a responsibility to do the research and understand the dynamics of the fishery and the produce that they’re sourcing from."

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Marine biologist Aaron Adams, conservation director at the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, pictured with permit. Courtesy Bonefish Tarpon Trust

Through a public relations firm, McInnis later clarified his remarks:

"Since our opening, just weeks after Hurricane Irma, we made it our mission to support many small businesses in the fishing community," he said in an email from the firm. "We do edify ourselves with each catch that is brought in to ensure that we are in line with regulations. After reviewing all of our invoices, since opening last fall, I found that we received a total of one permit fish in November."

McInnis' fishmonger also correctly identified the fish as a permit.

McInnis "uses a lot of sustainable fish that we get a lot of," said Francisco Urteaga, of KDX Seafrood. "He really didn’t do anything wrong. He’s a solid guy and he helps a lot of local fishermen who do that for living."

Urteaga said the permit was legally caught and purchased in Key West in November from a fisherman with whom he regularly deals.

"We catch it in the correct zone," he said. "We don’t go fishing in the zoo, you know what I mean?"

But purchasing a dead permit in Key West, even one caught in unrestricted federal waters, would likely be illegal, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation spokeswoman Amanda Nalley.

"The only way you could get it to Key West legally is to catch it outside the special permit zone and then have it trucked to Key West. You can’t boat it," she said. "If you are boating anywhere outside Key West, you are in the special permit zone and if you have a dead permit on your boat, that would be illegal."

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Flats fishing in Florida for permit, tarpon and bonefish helps pump about $460 million annually into the state's economy. Miami Herald archive

While it may be just one fish, there's a reason why permit on a menu would draw such harsh criticism. Permit belong to the trinity of South Florida flats fish, along with tarpon and bonefish, that help pump an estimated $460 million a year into the state economy. They draw anglers from around the globe and make up a rare fishery unlike any other in the U.S., stretching across a patchwork of seagrass meadows and winding channels. For years, conservationists, guides and anglers have fought to improve rules and management after watching the fish, and the flats-driven industry, decline.

In 2011, after determining that too many fishermen were confusing juvenile permit with pompano and driving down the population, they helped convince Florida to establish a special protection zone in state waters that stretch from Cape Florida south, across the Keys and southwest Florida.

"Our position was if fishermen can’t tell what species they’re catching they sure shouldn’t be keeping it," Adams said. "Ignorance is no excuse."

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