Miami Bait Spot on the Brink

Demolition halted, with hope of building anew for iconic spot in South Florida sailfish fishery

Future Plans for Bug Light
Bug Light once served as a staple for anglers and captains chasing sailfish off Miami. After its demolition, many want it back.Collin Ross
© Scott Kerrigan / aquapaparazzi.com

At any given point between Palm Beach and Key Largo, Florida, you can look offshore in wintertime and see kites flying high above sport-fishing boats chasing sailfish along the edge. There is no denying the importance of live bait to captains and anglers in this region, but making bait is not as easy as it once was. Recent developments, spurred by Coast Guard initiatives and Miami's Government Cut deep-dredging project, have taken away a valuable baitfishing spot and threatened the future of others. Vital not only from an ecological standpoint, live bait drives the sailfish fishery, which draws anglers from around the world and raises the adrenaline levels of tournament teams throughout winter.

The East Range Marker, known by South Florida anglers as the Bent Range Marker, recently was on the brink of destruction before members of the South Florida fishing community stepped forward just in the nick of time. Built as a navigational aid for ships entering and exiting Government Cut, the tower has become an iconic spot and an instrumental part of the world-class sailfish fishery. In July 2014, a sister beacon just south of Key Biscayne known as Bug Light was demolished as part of the Coast Guard’s ongoing project to remove nonessential navigational beacons. Without taking into consideration the indirect impacts on the sport-fishing industry and the essential habitat created by the lights as a fish aggregating device for baitfish, the Coast Guard contracted to have the Bent Range Marker removed as well.

Not allowing the sport-fishing ­community to be caught off guard, as it had been with Bug Light, Bruce Marx, a Miami-based attorney and lifelong fisherman, contacted the Coast Guard and city officials to explore avenues to prevent the demolition of the Bent Range Marker. Federal regulations allowed the Coast Guard to hand the responsibility of the marker over to a local government or nonprofit organization, and through discussions with both the Coast Guard and the city of Miami Beach, Marx secured an agreement. This would allow the Coast Guard to divest its interest in the Bent Range Marker and allow it to be transferred to Miami-Dade County, preventing its demolition. Marx and Jose Fonseca, tournament director of the nonprofit Capt. Bob Lewis Charitable Billfish Tournament, met the challenge of raising the needed funds, in excess of $140,000, to buy out the contractor and maintain and repair the marker, now the financial responsibility of the tournament.

Bring Back Bug Light

With the Bent Range Marker secured, Marx and Rodney Barreto now are ­rallying support from the sport-fishing community to bring back Bug Light. “This campaign will involve an attempt to secure the necessary government approvals and permits that will allow for the installation of a fish aggregating device in the location where Bug Light had previously stood since 1929,” Marx says. “Bug Light was as much an iconic structure for Miami fishing as the Orange Bowl was for Miami ­football, and it’s important they know that.” Marx and Barreto hope a valuable precedent was established among the South Florida fishing community that will serve as the framework for their effort to add habitat where Bug Light once provided great baitfishing opportunities.

Marx, who began the campaign in early September, is asking the sport-fishing community to send him letters (bmarx@marlowadler.com) made to the attention of Biscayne Bay National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom, explaining the importance Bug Light has on the sport-fishing community. “It is important for the fishing community to provide Superintendent Carlstrom an insight as to our experience with Bug Light so that he can gain an adequate appreciation and understanding as to why it is so critical to install an FAD in the location where Bug Light once stood,” says Marx.