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HomeNewsArchivesFISH MARKET SKEPTICS AIR THEIR VIEWS AT MEETING

FISH MARKET SKEPTICS AIR THEIR VIEWS AT MEETING

Aug. 9, 2002 – Many fishermen who habitually sell their catches along the roadside say the designated fish market west of Ville La Reine Shopping Center is not conducive to business and warn that conflicts may arise if they are all corralled into one location.
The government has made it clear that new regulations will be enforced, and several meetings have been held to discuss them over the last year.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett met with the group on Thursday evening to work out final details for the lease and operation of the Mid-Island Fish Market next to the produce market where about 50 growers display their wares on Saturday mornings. The fish market has 21 stalls, each meant to accommodate two vendors.
Plaskett told about 50 persons who crowded the conference area of the DPNR office complex in Hannah's Rest that roadside vendors will be required to relocate to the new market. But he said vendors will be allowed to continue operating at the Frederiksted and Gallows Bay markets and at any shoreline sites from which they launch their boats. Fishermen who traditionally sell door-to-door or out of their homes may continue to do so.
The governor is scheduled to cut a ribbon officially opening the fish market on Tuesday. Still, Plaskett told those at the meeting, he is open to suggestions. There still is time to address their concerns before enforcement of the law begins, he said. "Don't look at the opening of the market as any indication of a very short order — although you will have to use the market very soon," he said.
Plaskett said certain matters need to be agreed upon, such as lease rates and a means of assigning users to stalls.
There are 240 licensed full-time and part-time commercial fishermen on St. Croix. Carlos Farchette, deputy chief of DPNR enforcement, said only about a hundred sell along the roadsides, and at different times and on different days.
Robert McAuliffe, president of the Fisherman's United Cooperative of St. Croix, said only about seven commercial fishermen are in the business on a full-time basis. Others sell fish they themselves have caught along with the catches of other fishermen who choose not to sell directly to customers. He suggested that DPNR assign permanent locations to the full-timers, reserve 60 percent of the spaces for transient vendors and limit the amount of free ice to be distributed per vendor.
"Tuna and pot fish vendors can co-exist," McAuliffe said. "There must be flexibility, not force."
Raising safety concerns, McAuliffe said there is a need for access to the handicap ramp, widening the back loading ramp and increasing the sewage capacity of the new market.
Lawrence Lewis, assistant commissioner of Agriculture, told McAuliffe that two 6,000-gallon sewage tanks have been installed to collect effluents. Restroom sewage will not be commingled, he said, and baskets are in place to collect fish scales to avoid clogging the 4-inch pipelines. Also, he said, the guts and scales will go into a compost bin for future use in gardening.
Lewis said experience in operating the abbatoir has given the Agriculture Department insight into ways of addressing sewage and disposal matters.
As tempers flared, some walked out. One Frederiksted fisherman who sells roadside from his family's business complex said it is unfair that he must relocate and pay additional fees in a harsh business climate reflected in declining sales. Norris Benjamin Jr. accused those in charge of the meeting of "talking bull! You guys don't fish. You don't have to hustle. You don't know what it's like."
Plaskett told the group, "There are a number of possibilities that can be put into place." He proposed a first-come, first-serve method for assigning market spaces, a share-the-spot method where vendors can agree to co-exist in one stall, and use of the parking area for off-the-truck selling whenever all stalls are filled.
A William's Delight fisherman termed the new fish market "a shack" and said he didn't want to sell there. But Lewis urged the group to give the facility a try. "It's built already. Let us find a system that works," he said.
The U-shaped gazebo has an atrium courtyard where a garden and waterfall are to be installed. The facility will have concrete floors, running water, electricity, ice and parking. The proposed annual lease is $250 to $350 per year.
Edward Schuster told his fellow fisherman their greatest concern should be the long-term effects that over-fishing can have on the dwindling fish supply. He said few of them showed up at meetings to raise concerns about the marine park proposal. McAuliffe said only four people attended Delegate Donna M. Christensen's hearing at District Court in July.
The Fisheries Advisory Committee meets the second Wednesday of every month. McAuliffe said his group meets the first Wednesday so that fishermen can voice concerns to their representative before he attends the Fisheries monthly meeting.
Later Thursday night, a group of fishermen gathered outside the meeting room to raise concerns about over-fishing. One who asked not to be identified said gill-net fishing is wiping out the fish population around the islands.
Farchette explained that gill-net fishing involves using a large net, held in place by surface flotations and sub-surface weights, to catch large quantities of fish, up to 700 pounds per haul. Such fishing is done in the early-morning hours when the fish have gathered for feeding. Scuba divers chase the fish into the net.
"It is a popular practice for jacks or parrotfish, also known as blue fish in the Virgin Islands," he said.
Gill-net fishermen "are catching more than they can sell," Farchette said. "Sometimes we find large piles of fish tossed away on the beach, in vacant lots or at dump sites."
There is a moratorium on new fishing licenses.
Farchette said there are plans to protect dwindling fish species, which include the muttonfish, with nests on the southwest end of the island. "They want to get, but they don't want to give back," he said of some fishermen.
By the end of the two-hour meeting, most of those present had agreed to try out the new market arrangement.

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