From: Mat Probasco, Associated Press
Published December 1, 2004 12:00 AM

U.S. Virgin Island Fishermen Voice Concerns about Proposed Ban on Fishing of Several Species

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands − Local fishermen met with federal regulators Tuesday night to discuss their concerns about proposed bans on the fishing of several popular species.


The federal Caribbean Fishery Management Council is proposing a 15 to 30-year ban on the fishing of at least 13 species in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Experts say the species -- including the nassau and goliath groupers and the queen conch -- have been over-harvested and need time to repopulate.


The proposal will be sent to the U.S. Department of Commerce for consideration. Adopting the ban would involve modifying the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Fishermen in the U.S. Virgin Islands insist limits on fishing are strict enough. They cite a 1,900-acre (769-hectare) national park off the island of St. Croix where no fishing is allowed.


Jimmi Magner, a 52-year-old fishermen who attended Tuesday's meeting, said increasing restrictions would only lead to overfishing in other areas.


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"If these (bans) go into place, they'll just about devastate the island," Magner said. "They'll force us to overfish" in areas where the limits don't apply."


In March, researchers from the University of the Virgin Islands studied populations of the nassau grouper, a fish once common to the area that is now a candidate for the federal endangered species list. Researchers found that the grouper population was so depleted that many fish couldn't find their way back to spawning grounds.


But David Olsen, a former fish and wildlife director for the U.S. Virgin Islands natural resources department, argued the studies mostly apply to Puerto Rican waters and don't justify a ban in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Joe Kimmel, biologist for the National Marine Fisheries, countered that fishing in the U.S. Virgin Islands affects fish populations in Puerto Rican waters. He insisted a ban was needed in both U.S. territories to be effective.


Source: Associated Press


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