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The Great Costs of Gillnetting

Dear Source:

The article "Longterm Pain from Short-Term Gain: Commercial Divers Take Big Risk" highlighted the public cost of un-paid hospital bills from gillnet divers. This however, is only a fraction of the cost to the public.
I have been working as a marine scientist in the VI for almost 30 years and have witnessed the massive decline in large fish on our reefs. Although there is more than one reason for this, gill netting is one that is significant and can easily be stopped if the government would do its job. The fish in the VI belong to us all, it – is a public resource, like our groundwater. It is a privilege to profit from taking fish and should only be done if it doesn't compromise the public resource. It is the government's job to protect this resource. This is not what is happening in the VI now. Gillnetters are compromising our reefs by setting nets and harvesting all the fish (and sometimes turtles) caught in the mesh. The fish species that cannot be sold (bycatch) are disposed of. They often set the nets in areas where fish are migrating from their daily feeding grounds to their nocturnal deeper resting grounds. This allows them to catch large amounts of parrotfishes, an important fish for the health of our reefs. Parrotfishes are grazers and help to keep the reefs from being overgrown with algae. I regularly dive on the reefs and can attest that the numbers of parrotfish on our reefs today is a fraction of what it was.
So why are a few allowed to profit at the expense of a public resource? Good question, ask the Governor and the Commissioner of DPNR, I did. A year ago I was told that they were aware of the gillnetting issue and assured me that they would be addressing it shortly. But gillnetting persists despite the fact there is a law prohibiting it.
I worked for 13 years with DPNR in the water program. If someone was polluting the water – a public resource – they would be stopped, which is what happened with the Tutu aquifer many years ago. The livihood of the gas station owner wasn't put above the public resource. Why then is the livihood of a few fishers justification for compromising our fishery? The past administration sought and received a federal grant to financially assist displaced gillnetter to get setup in a different fishery. In the current administration, the Fish and Wildlife Director, Dr. Olsen, decided to give these funds back and the Commissioner has elected not to enforce the law banning gillnetting.
Who is looking out for our fisheries? The answer is simple, no one. As a result, the cost of gillnetting to the economy and the health of our marine resources is tremendous.

Marcia Taylor
Christiansted, St.Croix

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