June 13, 2003 – The interim regulations for the Coral Reef National Monument have only been enforced for a bit more than a month, but already boaters and fishermen are wrangling with park authorities.
At a meeting on Friday called by Steve Clark, chief ranger for both the monument and V.I. National Park, boaters complained of having been forced to move out of Hurricane Hole by May 5 when a no-anchoring rule took effect.
Under the new regulations, boaters are allowed to anchor in the protected waters only during hurricane season when a storm threatens. For example, when Tropical Depression 2 threatened to escalate into a named storm on Wednesday, Clark sent out word that boats could be moved into Hurricane Hole.
Clark said the nine boaters who then moved their vessels into Hurricane Hole in advance of what he thought would be a named storm were allowed to leave their ground tackle in place but had to remove their boats once it became clear the weather system posed no threat.
Boater Lee Stanciauskas claimed that she and her husband, Larry Best, were treated unfairly because they vacated Hurricane Hole when they were asked to in early May.
One of the fishermen at the meeting, Buster Brady, claimed that sewage from boats has destroyed the island's fishery. "You need to get rid of them all around the islands," he said.
Clark noted that the regulations are still a work in progress. "There are going to be growing pains," he said.
Under the interim rules for the monument, fishermen had to move their fish pots from the designated waters or face their confiscation by park rangers. It's now legal to fish with handlines for hardnose, also called blue runner, in monument waters on the south side of St. John and for bait fish in Hurricane Hole — if fishermen get a permit from the park first. The permits are free and must be renewed every year.
Clark said the permits can be issued on the spot, and he handed some out at the meeting, held in the conference room of the park maintenance building. Other fishermen will need to visit him at his office in the park Visitor Center in Cruz Bay to get their permits, he said. A permit covers all people aboard a vessel.
Clark also urged the 30 or so people at the meeting to get a Global Positioning System device so they can determine the monument's boundaries while out on the water. He said the park will hold a workshop soon on how to use a GPS.
Another reason fishermen should carry the devices is so that park and other emergency personnel can find them if they run into trouble, he said. "We'll come get you," he promised, noting that park staff will carry out rescues even if the boaters in trouble are not in federal waters. And in emergencies, he noted, boaters are allowed to anchor while awaiting assistance.
"My management style is people first," Clark said.
Also speaking at Friday's meeting, Jeff Miller of the park's Resource Management Division said that the monument regulations will give declining fish stocks a chance to recover.
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