May 4, 2005 – Federal officials and fishermen agreed on regulations to help rejuvenate fish populations in the territory's waters, officials said Wednesday.
The agreement banned catching five types of grouper and six types of snapper, but did not enact proposals to ban fishing in more than 93-square-miles of U.S. Virgin Islands waters.
The proposed closures sparked heated debate between fishermen, federal scientists, and the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council. (See "V.I. Wins First Round in Fishing Fight ").
If ratified by the Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, in Washington, D.C., the rules agreed on at the St. Thomas meetings will protect fish during their spawning seasons.
The rules also permanently close fishing at the Grammanik Bank, a half-mile area near St. Thomas where rare Nassau grouper spawn.
Federal officials initially proposed to outlaw the catching of at least 13 species, and to ban fishing in more than 93-square-miles of U.S. Virgin Islands waters.
Puerto Rican fishermen escaped a 124-square-mile ban under the agreement by disputing federal data showing the areas had been over fished, according Geno Pineiro, who represents commercial fishermen from Puerto Rico.
David Olsen, a scientist representing Virgin Islands fishermen, also disputed claims the waters were over fished.
"We don't think they can scientifically prove over fishing of a single species," Olsen said.
The proposals come after a handful of studies concluded that tighter restrictions on fishing was the only way to protect species close to extinction.
Local fishermen said the proposed closures were overkill, and would put fishermen out of work.
"They actually took away 40 percent of my catch," said third generation fisherman David F. Berry. "And I have a 30 percent increase in fuel right
Berry and other fishermen said there were enough restrictions on fishing. They pointed to the 1,900-acre national monument around Buck Island north of St. Croix, where no fishing is allowed.
Few local fishermen were able to attend two-day meeting at Marriott Frenchman's Reef on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"It's over 150 supposed to be here, but only two showed up," Berry said. "A man who has a family and a house to pay for can't take two days off to come here. We could never afford to be at these meetings."
The regulations also ban filleting fish at sea, a practice some say is used to hide the type of fish caught and avoid possible fines for catching a banned fish.
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