The government shutdown affected many Americans, but hit one group particularly hard–the backcountry fishing guides of the Florida Keys, who rely upon entry to Everglades National Park so their clients can cast for snook, redfish, seatrout, snappers and other species in a beautiful, remote, wild area.
These 16-day closure directly affected the guides–who must buy annual permits that allow access to the Everglades–because if they can’t fish, they can’t take clients out. And unlike federal employees, there’s no possibility of back pay. But it also took away another element.
“It’s not just about the money. It’s a way of life,” said Jim Willcox, a longtime backcountry guide based out of Islamorada who called in from the Everglades this morning. “If I don’t have fun, neither do my customers. My clients just waded to and caught two reds. We saw roseate spoonbills and several crocodiles on the way in. It makes you realize how lucky we are to have this.”
Backcountry guide Randy Towe, who last week organized an on-the-water protest about the closure that drew about 500 people, is pleased and relieved that the park is back open, but has a message for Washington and Congress: “I hope that somehow they can figure out a way, if they’re going to shut it down again in January, (to) let us fish in the parks, let us make our living, let us provide for our families, and fight out whatever they’re trying to get settled.”