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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, March 3, 2024


All foreign fishing licenses have been suspended in the British Virgin Islands while new fishing regulations are being formalized.
Any foreign vessels caught fishing in B.V.I. waters could face fines of up to $500,000, according to Bertrand Lettsome, the B.V.I.'s chief conservation and fisheries officer.
Lettsome said the suspension will remain in force until new regulations are in place. He said that would be "very soon."
The announcement comes at a time when many sport fishermen from the states and elsewhere are lining up their plans for the upcoming fishing season, which begins roughly June 1 and runs through the summer months.
The fish-rich "north drop," which lies in B.V.I. waters, is the place where most vessels from the east end of St. Thomas head for their daily fishing because it is close and fertile.
Lettsome said the regulations are part of legislation that was passed two years ago intended to bring the fishing industry in the Virgin Islands more in line with international rules and regulations.
Fishermen from the U.S. Virgin Islands were given a grace period after the new legislation was passed but, Lettsome said, that period is over.
The B.V.I will allow foreigners staying in the B.V.I to obtain temporary fishing licenses, but no foreign vessels will be given permits.
Two years ago recreational fishermen faced the same concerns. A delegation from the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce Marine Committee went to Tortola and met with officials from the B.V.I. who agreed to issue a memorandum of understanding allowing sportfishing vessels from the U.S.V.I. and elsewhere to continue fishing the B.V.I. waters.
In a letter to Gov. Roy L. Schneider dated June 14, 1997, Chief Minister Ralph O'Neal said the memorandum had been drafted and confirmed that "this government has no intention of preventing U.S.V.I. sports fishing tournaments from being held in the territory from time to time, as has been the tradition."
To date the official memorandum has not been received.
In a phone interview Saturday, Lettsome said he "envisioned everything being back to normal by fishing season."
Estimates vary as to how much revenue the sportfishing industry generates during the traditionally "low" summer season, but the chamber's committee estimated it about $10 million.
Kelvin "Red" Bailey, captain of "Abigail III" a sportfishing boat said, "I don't blame them. They have a right to do what they want in their waters."
Bailey said it is a problem for the whole island, not just the fishermen.
"The governor needs to appoint someone to look into it," he said. "The marine advisory board can't do anything without government involvement."
Lettsome said the issue is the fish.
"We have to regulate the stock or we won't have any fish left for anyone," he said.
The law allows recreational fishermen to take food for themselves. Lettsome thinks some people take more.
"They fill their boats with fish and sell it. That's illegal," he said.
Sport fishermen are allowed to take migratory food fish for themselves, but they traditionally "tag and release" billfish. The Virgin Islands was the first place in the world to release blue marlin, according to Jimmy Loveland, director of the Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, which is the
largest fund-raiser for the Boy Scouts in the Virgin Islands.
Lettsome said the regulations should be ironed out "before our elections," which are in May.

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