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Sunday, December 3, 2023


More than 20 St. John residents gave Congressional Delegate Donna Christian Christensen an earful Thursday on the proposed U.S. Department of Interior plan to declare nearly 20 square miles of sea floor around the island a national monument. Fishermen in particular and other speakers at the Julius E. Sprauve School gave the proposal a definitive thumbs-down.
Onetime St John administrator James Dalmida said, "Local fishermen are not going to allow the federal government to come in and change their way of life without a fight."
Dalmida, whose family has been involved in fishing for years, likened the situation to that of Native Americans on the mainland. The federal government "trampled on their way of life, and now they're on reservations and cannot feed themselves."
Dalmida pointed out that in other areas of the U.S. where federal regulations have altered how people make a living—such as logging restrictions in the Pacific Northwest—programs have been put in place to help train people for other jobs or offer them other incentives. Nothing like that has been offered to Virgin Islanders, he said.
The designation, according to Fire Service employee Brian Chapman, will effectively kill fishing in Coral Bay. Chapman said the national monument status and its presumed no-take zone will force fishermen to go farther out or into British Virgin Islands waters for their catch.
The proposed monument zone would cover part of Hurricane Hole in Coral Bay and a large area off St. John's south side extending out for miles. It would also cover a small section off the north side from near Maho Bay to Haulover.
Craig Barshinger, who once worked the Fish and Wildlife Division, accused the federal government of treating Virgin Islanders "like children" and ignoring the many local studies that would have helped them make a better decision. He urged St. Johnians to come together and use their resources wisely so that outsiders won't feel compelled to make unilateral decisions.
Speakers also complained that poorly built V.I. National Park roads contributed to runoff that has damaged the marine environment and contended that tanning lotion from swimmers drives fish away as well.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley thanked those in attendance for showing up at the hearing, which he said was a learning experience for him.

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