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They Only Care About the Fish, Not the Fishermen


Dear Source:
I' d like to comment on the various news stories regarding my resignation at Fish and Wildlife. First of all, Commissioner Mathes' decision to institute the ban on net fishing goes against my own advice, decisions by both Fishery Advisory Committees, efforts by the affected fishermen to develop meaningful management regulations and represents a return to the historic role of past administrations as enemies of local fishing industry. I resigned because it would have been inappropriate and unprofessional for me to oppose this action while employed at DFW.
The ban itself was maneuvered by a small clique of continentals on St. Croix. They claim that this fishery poses an unacceptable threat to St. Croix's reefs because the fishery targets algae eating fishes. There is no proof of this claim as it is a matter of scientific conjecture. What is real, is that the ban will devastate the affected fishermen, their families and local consumers who prefer these species.
Being continentals, they have little concern for these issues even though the affected parties make up less than 10% of St. Croix's population at the very most. They only care about the fish and not the fishermen. Local Crucians beware, this is just the start, they still have the East End Marine Park to maneuver!
The press coverage itself was emblematic of the problem facing local fishermen. While the reporters made sure that they interviewed all parties supporting the ban, only the VIVoice bothered to talk with any fishermen and then only one. The continentals are led by UVI's marine advisor, a specialist in media and public information. Whenever an issue arises this small clique mobilizes letters to the governor, to the local press. It's always the same names, the same form letters, it's always less that 30 of them.
Fishermen, on the other hand are not skilled in media and public information. They are too busy supplying their customers with locally caught seafood, supporting their families, trying to survive in a difficult and dangerous business.
Federal regulators are going to try and impose harsh regulations over the next few years, particularly in St. Croix. I was trying to establish Territorial management that could stand the test and lead to sustainable management of our resources. This small group of net fishermen had worked hard to come up with a management program that could serve as a model for the other fisheries. It included a phase out whereby these would be the last fishermen employing these techniques. Implementation of a ban instead of management was an unacceptable set back.
During the election, promises were made that this administration would move forward and recognize that fishing like agriculture is an important aspect of Virgin Islands tradition, culture and food self-sufficiency. There would be move to establish a relationship to the fishing industry that was supportive and enhanced the ability of our fishermen to supply this important product. My own appointment was supposedly part of that move. I am beginning to suspect that I was simple window dressing and that we are returning to the bad old days of Plaskett/Turnbull.
I intend to work with the Fishermen's association on both islands to resist that return.
David A. Olsen
St. Thomas

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