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Fishermen, Conservationists Square Off Over Recent Fishing Ban

Sept. 26, 2006 — Finding common ground between fishermen and conservationists regarding a recent ban on gill and trammel net fishing was the goal Tuesday during a meeting of the Committee on Labor and Agriculture.
While fishermen contend the ban endangers their livelihood, conservation officials pointed to the risks of overfishing and the danger the nets pose to endangered species, like sea turtles.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, the committee's chair, began the proceedings by stating that he understands both perspectives and intends to be unbiased in order to find a solution "both factions can agree with."
The ban is specific to gill and trammel net fishing in state waters surrounding the islands. The use of these nets is banned in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and federal waters surrounding the islands. In addition to the fish specifically targeted by these nets, coral, sea fans and many endangered species, considered "by-catch," can be inadvertently caught. (A common by-catch example is dolphins being swept up in tuna nets.)
Dr. William Coles, coordinator of the Division of Fish and Wildlife's endangered species program, said the nets "can cause entanglement of sea turtles" and that "fisheries should try to minimize intake of endangered species."
Overfishing of the area is also a concern for many fishermen who do not utilize the gill and trammel netting techniques. Golden Hook Fishing Club representative Todd Nurberger said the fishermen he spoke to deemed the nets "too effective," catching whatever swims through or is within the area.
Dr. David Olsen, St. Thomas Fishermen's Association (STFA) board member, said the fishermen's industry should be "supported not inhibited." Olsen said STFA undertook several studies of supposedly overfished species and found "large fish are abundant and landings have been increased."
Thomas Daley, St. Croix Fisheries Advisory Committee (FAC) vice chairman, said, "the present trend of gill net fishing will create a loss in the future." Daley testified as soon as a fisherman has utilized one area with his nets; they are not able to return to the same spot for up to six weeks.
Fisherman Gerson Martinez asked, "[while] we are ensuring our future, what do our children eat today?"
All of the fishermen testifying said the ban on netting will cause a serious negative economic impact. STFA Vice President Julian Magras said asking fishermen to change their means of income could force those individuals "to go on welfare." Olsen said, "the current net ban is an example of a narrow view of resource management" by the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett said neither DPNR nor DFW made the decision on the ban of the netting. "The entire idea was insisted upon, initiated and advocated by the members of the FAC," Plaskett said. He said the department "acted within its authority as prescribed by law."
The committee did not have a quorum to rule on the matter. Testimony was placed on the record for further consideration. Sens. Craig Barshinger, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, and Neville James were in attendance. Sens. Ronald Russell and Norman Jn Baptiste were excused. Sen. Celestino White Sr. was absent.
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