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HomeNewsArchivesFish and Wildlife Official: Current Fishing Levels Off St. Croix Unsustainable

Fish and Wildlife Official: Current Fishing Levels Off St. Croix Unsustainable

May 14, 2008 — The seas around St. Croix are being overfished at four times the maximum sustainable level, and federal law requires that fishing be restrained, V.I. Fish and Wildlife division scientist Toby Tobias told the Senate Committee on Education Culture and Youth Wednesday.
Tobias's testimony came during the first of three days of wide-ranging hearings on preserving and enhancing the distinctive culture of the Virgin Islands, addressing topics from local drinks to culturally significant trees. The sparsely attended hearing was informational. No legislation was on the table nor any votes taken.
While St. Croix is being badly overfished, St. Thomas and St. John fisheries are being harvested at or slightly above sustainable levels, Tobias said. Part of the difference is because the undersea platform providing home to fish around St. Croix is much smaller than that around St. Thomas and St. John.
"St. Croix's platform is a fourth the size and has twice the fishing effort," Tobias said. "About 1.3 million pounds of landed catch were recorded last year for St. Croix, while St. Thomas had 770,000 pounds."
Under the terms of the federal Fishery Conservation And Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, local regulatory bodies such as the V.I. Division of Fish and Wildlife, part of the Department of Planning and Resources, are to impose quotas and restrictions to ensure all overfishing ceases by 2010, Tobias said.
David Olsen, chief scientist for the St. Thomas Fishermen's Association and former director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, harshly criticized DPNR's regulatory actions, particularly its decision to impose a ban on using gill nets put in place by scuba divers.
"St. Croix's conch landings have exceeded the manageable yield continuously since 1991," Olsen said. "Fish and Wildlife took no action to address the issue until the past year. Not willing to negotiate, they instead concentrated on attempting to ban a small-net fishing industry that was willing to cooperate. … It is clear that DPNR and Fish and Wildlife are not proper custodians of the industry."
Tobias countered that the practice — principally on St. Croix — of using scuba divers to place gill nets on the ocean floor, catching every fish that comes by, is too thorough and cannot be sustained.
Though in opposition to new regulations, Olsen acknowledged the problem.
"In my opinion there is overfishing on St. Croix," he said. "But I don't believe you can regulate without the involvement of the fishermen."
Testimony about efforts to educate Virgin Islanders and visitors and promote V.I. culture came from officials with Tourism, the Division of Libraries Archives and Museums, the Education Department, the V.I. Council for the Humanities and elsewhere. The senators heard about library repair projects, the activities of St. Croix's East End Marine Park, plans to clean up Charlotte Amalie's vendor plaza and goals for cultural education in the territory's public schools, among other topics. No new programs, appropriations or actions were proposed. The committee will hear testimony from more organizations and stakeholders on many of these same issues for a second day on St. Thomas Thursday, then on St. Croix Friday.
Present at various times Wednesday were Sens. Liston A. Davis, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Louis Patrick Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone. For much of the hearing, Davis, the committee chairman, was the only senator present.
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