Fishermen Barred from Spawning Grounds of Rare Species in U.S. Virgin Islands

U.S. authorities have barred fishing in areas of the U.S. Virgin Islands where rare species spawn, officials said Monday.

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — U.S. authorities have barred fishing in areas of the U.S. Virgin Islands where rare species spawn, officials said Monday.

The Caribbean Fisheries Management Council has banned fishing at the Grammanik Bank, a shallow stretch of sea south of St. Thomas.

The area is a spawning ground for dwindling numbers of several threatened species including the Nassau grouper -- a candidate for the endangered species list and federal protection, said Dean Plaskett, commissioner of the U.S. Caribbean territory's Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Fishing is banned in the area from Feb. 1 to April 30 based on two studies last year that found, unless spawning areas are closed seasonally, the fish will not be able to repopulate, Plaskett said.

Researchers from the University of the Virgin Islands studied the area last year and recommended the council close the area to fishermen during the spawning season.


Though it is illegal to catch Nassau grouper, many fishermen get away with it by filleting the fish at sea, making the type of fish difficult to identify.

In March, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers conducted a two-week study of fish populations around St. John and Buck Island in the territory and found fish size and population to be dangerously low.

The NOAA team saw just one Nassau grouper, which scientists say was nearly fished out of existence in the 1970s and 1980s before becoming federally protected.

Overfishing and destruction of fish habitat, such as coral reefs was to blame for a lack of size and population, the researchers said.

The council has begun drafting proposals that would prohibit fishing of the Nassau and Goliath grouper, and the queen conch -- which experts say have been over-harvested -- in parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and neighboring Puerto Rico for 15 to 30 years so the fish can regenerate their populations.

The planned bans have drawn the ire of local fishermen who claim researchers are misreading data. The fishermen say overfishing in Puerto Rican waters is falsely blamed on Virgin Islands fishermen.

The fisheries council plans a series of meetings starting Jan. 26 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to draw public reaction to the planned closures.

Source: Associated Press