The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has taken an island-based management approach since 2012, providing autonomy to agencies like the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, which has now approved plans to further embrace island-based fishing management.
The Comprehensive Fishery Management Plans were drafted separately for each jurisdiction. One for Puerto Rico, one for St. Croix and a combined plan for St. Thomas and St. John. (See Comprehensive Fishery Management Plan STX, Comprehensive Fishery Management Plan, STT:STJ)
The plan includes seven annual catch limits in the St. Thomas, St. John plans are set to zero and six are set to zero for St. Croix. All the islands would be prohibited the catch or procurement of all coral species, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, various species of grouper and parrotfish that are rainbow, blue or midnight colored. According to the plans, Queen Conch would be a prohibited catch in St. Thomas, St. John but has a 50,000 annual pound limit set for St. Croix.
“Once the island-based fishery management plans are in place, the federal government will be able to apply a focused response to local needs and events without involving the other island groups for which such a response is not needed or may even be inappropriate,” William Arnold the Caribbean Branch Chief of the NOAA said.
When reaching out to local fisherman and businesses who operate in the tourism industry offering fishing or spear fishing charters, they collectively felt the new plans would not change how their businesses and fishing are conducted.
“The commercial fishers in the USVI are a very individualistic group, each running what NOAA and NMFS considers a small business they own and operate with few if any employees,” Arnold said.
Neither state nor federal fishery managers want to put fishers out of business Arnold said, but in fact just the opposite. He said the goal behind island-based management is to ensure harvest that is ecologically sustainable and economically rewarding to the fishers.
“Obviously, there can be friction between those two goals, so we work closely with the fishers and all interest groups to find the best balance. But we must put the resource first, because without the resource there is no fishery and no fishery economy,” Arnold said.
The regulations and annual catch limits are designed to achieve what Arnold said are sometimes competing goals, economic vitality and ecological sustainability. He also stressed the point that once regulations are in place, it is vital the community adhere to the policies for the sake of the resource.
Arnold considers the transition the council is making to separate jurisdictions between St. Thomas/St. John, St. Croix and Puerto Rico to be, “not only wise but necessary.”
“Each of the three island groups the council has identified and for which it is in the process of establishing individualized management plans has unique ecological, cultural, economic, and fishery attributes that are best addressed at the local level,” Arnold said.
He added that it is no more appropriate for management in federal waters to be the same throughout the Caribbean than it is for management in state waters to be the same among the islands.
“The most effective and responsive approach to management must be sensitive to local conditions and local practices. Both of which vary considerably between islands,” Arnold said.
While the council’s new plans aim to aid in sustainability and reef conservation, ultimately Arnold said the NOAA plan depends on respect and an inherent conservation ethic within the populous to ensure the continued health and vitality of the resource.