As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warns of a "gut feeling" that terrorists will strike this summer, the U.S. Coast Guard is shrinking security zones in the Tampa Bay area.
Lt. Cmdr. Marc Knowlton said the changes reflect a recent risk analysis that used such factors as a target's level of protection and the potential damage of an attack to identify the most vulnerable spots.
"We only have so many boats. We can only do so many things," Knowlton said. "The more focused we are, the better we can do all of our jobs."
The security zones, where commercial and recreational boats are prohibited, were established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This is the first time a risk assessment has revised the zones.
Dan DeMarco, a fishing guide, said the prohibited places - mostly waterways near structures - are prime fishing spots. The changes, he said, don't go far enough to truly help anglers.
"The little bit that they've done really doesn't help in the whole picture," said DeMarco, who has run Tampa Bay Flats Fishing for seven years. "We've had so many areas shut down and put off-limits that it really makes it extremely difficult to even attempt to fish."
Under the old rules, the Coast Guard prohibited boats from being within 100 feet of all bridge supports in a zone that stretched from 1,400 yards north of the main ship channel to 1,500 yards south of it. Now, boats are prohibited only from the ship channel, as well as bridge bases or dolphins, the concrete islands designed to protect the bridge.
Protected areas around East Bay and Hookers Point also were shrunk, though security zones grew around the Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend power plant.
A new security zone is being considered around Manbirtee Key, a shoal island to the west of Port Manatee. Knowlton said the Coast Guard will hold a public meeting and at least a 45-day comment period before making that change.
The next step in guarding the areas will be putting up signs. Until then, boaters can learn about the revised rules from fliers the Coast Guard is handing out to marinas and bait shops.
Boaters are also limited from getting closer than 1,000 yards to ships carrying ammonia or gas. They must stay 100 yards away from cruise ships. Violating a zone can lead to fines up to $32,500 or as much as six years in jail.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 893-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.