Nov. 30, 2004 — About 100 fishermen and political leaders met with Caribbean Fisheries Management Council representatives Tuesday night on St. Thomas to decry proposed federal restriction on where they can fish and what types of sea-life they can catch.
The restrictions would prohibit fishing of the Nassau and goliath grouper and the queen conch which federal experts say have been over-harvested in parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for 15 to 30 years so the animals can regenerate their populations, according to Caribbean Fishery Management Council documents.
At least 13 other types of sea-life have been over-harvested around the territories, according to a summary of the proposed bans.
The restrictions would also bar fishing in select federal waters in the U.S. Caribbean territories.
David Olsen, the former director of the Virgin Islands Fish and Wildlife Division of Planning and Natural Resources, said the federal studies were flawed, that they ignored data from the Virgin Islands and lumped the islands in with Puerto Rico, which he said has been over-fished.
"The two fisheries are very different," Olsen said. "They've got over four million people in Puerto Rico and a small shelf to fish."
If the Virgin Islands were over-fished, he said, the number and size of fish would drop. "But that's not so," Olsen said.
Local fishermen know the numbers and size of fish being caught better than any federal studies, he said.
Fisherman Jimmi Magner agreed, saying the proposed bans would devastate the small fishing industry.
"This is all based on the catch reports of Puerto Rico. Ours aren't being used," Magner said. "We put in place rules to protect the fish while they are spawning. We did that ourselves." The fishermen did not rely on the government to do it, he said.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Sen. Lorraine Berry and Dean Plaskett, commissioner of DPNR, all spoke out against the proposal.
"My constituents and I remain un-persuaded that over-fishing exists in the Virgin Islands," Christensen said.
The Caribbean Fisheries Management Council recorded the testimonies to help shape policy for federal waters three or more miles outside the Virgin Islands.
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