July 29, 2003 – The newly elected chief minister of the British Virgin Islands wants to see that territory develop a bigger sportfishing industry.
Speaking to the B.V.I. Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association on Tortola on Tuesday, Orlando Smith said that the B.V.I. is seeking ways to diversify its marine industry, which currently relies almost entirely on bareboat charters.
"It is simply inconceivable that we continue to allow boats to fill the coffers of other countries and then sail into our waters and pluck our fish," Smith said.
He also announced a memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday between his government and the British government which would pave the way for the B.V.I. to become a Category 1 shipping jurisdiction by yearend. The change would enable the B.V.I. to become homeport for pleasure craft up to 400 tons.
Both initiatives are part of the new government's push to reinvigorate the territory's economy, which suffered a slowdown after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland.
Smith's comments came at a time when the B.V.I. is at odds with the U.S.V.I. marine industry over fishing in area waters. Since last October, B.V.I. authorities have seized three boats alleged to have been engaged in illegal fishing.
While one boat owner was let off with a stern warning, four other persons have been charged with fishing without a license and registration, crimes that carry fines up to $500,000. Last week, a judge rejected a motion to dismiss illegal fishing charges against two of these men — Rick and Jason Berry of St. Thomas.
The Berrys, who are brothers, were arrested Oct. 15, 2002, at West End, Tortola, as they prepared to unload 200 pounds of fish.
Their lawyer had asked Magistrate Gail Charles to dismiss the illegal fishing charges because the prosecution had failed to establish that the fish were caught in B.V.I. waters.
In her ruling, however, Charles said that the 1997 Fisheries Act, under which the men were charged, clearly states that once fish have been found on board a boat in the B.V.I., it is presumed that those fish were caught in the B.V.I., unless the fishermen can prove otherwise.
Following Charles's ruling, Rick Berry took the stand. During his testimony, Berry admitted that on the day in question he was not in possession of a valid B.V.I. fishing license. "There was no license in my hands at that time," he said under cross examination by prosecutor Evans Welch. He also conceded that the fish on board had been caught in B.V.I. waters.
Berry further admitted that on Sept. 27 Conservation and Fisheries enforcement officers had warned him that his license was about to expire. Berry said that Raymond Smith — a St. Thomas resident but a B.V.I. citizen — was responsible for obtaining fishing licenses for the Berrys' boat, Forever Fishing.
Under B.V.I. law, it is easier for citizens to obtain fishing licenses than foreigners. Berry denied that he was using Smith to obtain a license more easily, alternately referring to Smith as his business partner and his employer.
Jason Berry is expected to testify when the case resumes on Sept. 5, the same day another St. Thomas fishermen, Scott Niddrie, is scheduled to appear in court for the first time to face illegal fishing charges.
Niddrie and his captain, Jimmy Estraca, were charged with illegal fishing following the June Moon fishing tournament sponsored by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club. His boat, Black Pearl, was released last week after Niddrie paid a $15,000 bond to the court.
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