June 10, 2003 – Fishermen attending the first of two planned meetings on the new fishing rules for the Coral Reef National Monument came away with a useful gift — fishing permits.
The permits were handed out free of charge to about a dozen fishermen attending Monday's meeting on St. Thomas by Chief Park Ranger Steve Clark. "Virtually every fisherman that left that meeting had that permit in their hands, and they were legal to harvest the blue runner as well as the bait fish in the monument, effective immediately," he said.
The meeting, conducted by the V.I. National Park in conjunction with the Enforcement Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, took place at the DPNR offices at Cyril E. King Airport. The second meeting is set for Friday afternoon at the national park maintenance area on St. John.
Those attending Monday's meeting also received copies of President Clinton's designation of the federal underwater monument to the south and east of St. John, aerial photographs of the monument and copies of the Federal Register in which the designation was published.
The boundaries of the monument became official the first week in May. Clark expressed the hope of park officials and conservationists that the limits on fishing in the newly protected waters will ultimately improve the prospects for local fishermen. As depleted fish populations are replenished, migrating fish will make their way out of the monument waters and will enrich the areas where fishing is allowed, he said.
"There's no question," Clark said, "if you speak to fishermen these days, it takes more money to get to the location to catch the fish; the fish are smaller. Obviously, they're not as abundant as they once were."
Clark said he is available to meet separately with fishermen unable to attend either of the group presentations. He said he can set up meetings at his office in the V.I. National Park Visitor Center in Cruz Bay or can go into the fishermen's communities to talk with them there.
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