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Fishermen Reluctantly Agree to Try New Vented Pots

Feb. 18, 2008 — The St. Thomas Fishermen's Association is partnering with the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council (CFM) in a study to determine the number, if any, of compressed or juvenile fish that get trapped in fish pots.
The Frenchtown bayside was filled Monday afternoon with fisherman, scientists and brand new vented fish traps, built over the past several months by association members.
The fishermen aren't happy about the study, but STFA President Jimmy Magner and Julian Magras say they will go along with it in the interest of establishing an equitable and sustainable fishery. Magner is a sixth-generation fisherman. He teamed up with other fishermen in 2005 to create the association, a voice for the local fishing community.
The study will last 20 weeks. A representative from the Department of Natural Resources' Fish and Wildlife Division will measure the small catch — trigger fish, doctor fish, butterfly, sargent fish — that the fishermen haul in.
The new traps have vents of either 2 x 4 inches, 1 x 4 inches or 1 x 6 inches. Each trap has two vents.
"At first they wanted to cut vents 5 x 6 inches," Magras said, and laughs. "That would mean we'd bring the traps back empty."
The regular traps (or pots) don't use vents; they use a two-inch mesh. Since the fishermen started using two-inch nets in their traps a few years ago, the mortality rate of the small fish has dropped 95 percent.
"Almost all the fish we catch are saleable," Magner said. "Maybe we throw one or two back out of a pot full."
However, the scientists want a figure arrived at scientifically.
"We need to know what the count is, and the local fisherman have been given the task," said Eugenia E. Pineiro-Soler, CFM chairman. "They are the stewards of the industry. There's been a change in the science in the last few years. To have good science you have to have commercial fishermen, because they possess the knowledge. About one year ago we started the idea of a project to plan and develop and get the approval of NOAH fisheries for a pilot study of the trap's haul."
Inspecting the traps Monday were Graciela Garcia-Moliner, CFM habitat specialist; former V.I. Sen. Virdin Brown, now SFM vice chairman; and Diana T. Martino, CFM assistant executive director. Garcia-Moliner presented Magras with a paper outlining who would take out which traps. Magras initially balked until she explained that it was a random, computer-generated plan.
Starting next week four fishermen — Magras, Winston Ledee, Ernest Quetel and Louis Blanchard — will take the traps out for a 20-week period.
"Each of the fishermen will haul 12 of the vented traps, the treatments, three of each in a string, pulling on a regular basis for the 20 weeks," Magras said.
The effects of the new traps can spell disaster, he insisted.
"We will lose 50 percent to 75 percent of our catch with these treatments," he said. "It will cut into our livelihood, and make a hardship on the fishermen who are already suffering in this economy. It's really not a good outcome."
The study will be "statistically significant," Garcia-Moliner said, and allow all parties to observe the results. The study will be concluded by August, she said. It is funded by NOAH's National Southeast Fishing Science Center and the CFM.
"The fishermen put in, too," she said. "They did all the work on a volunteer basis, building the traps."
Added Magras, "After this study is done, it will be decided what the regulations will be, if any."
Three STFA members sit on the CFM advisory panel, and one on the council's Scientific and Statistical Panel.
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