Oct. 27, 2003 – St. Thomas fishermen Rick and Jason Berry pleaded guilty on Friday to fishing in British Virgin Islands waters without a license and registration. Sentencing is set for this Friday, Magistrate Gail Charles said.
The pleas came after their trial was well under way. The men face up to $500,000 in fines but will likely be assessed much less than that. Their lawyer, Hayden St. Clair-Douglas, asked the court on Friday to impose a "minimal" fine on his clients.
"What they were doing was pursuing a legitimate livelihood," St. Clair-Douglas said. He added that the brothers had seen their fishing boat, worth an estimated $25,000, seized, and had been unemployed as a result. "It has been more than a year, and these men have lost a considerable amount of income," the attorney said.
The brothers were arrested on Oct. 15, 2002, at West End, Tortola, as they prepared to unload some 250 pounds of fish they admit were caught in B.V.I. waters from their St. Thomas boat, Forever Fishing. The fish were to be sold to the B.V.I. Fishing Complex, according to the Berrys.
The Berrys now admit that Forever Fishing's B.V.I. license and registration were expired at the time of their arrest. However, in court on Friday, St. Clair-Douglas said that while the men have accepted that they cannot successfully defend themselves in court against the charges, there is more to the story. He pointed out that the men did produce work permits and customs clearance documents during their partially heard trial.
"You can ask yourself how these people would have been able to obtain work permits and the like without first having a fishing license," the lawyer told the court.
In his testimony in July, Rick Berry said that his business partner, Raymond Smith, was responsible for applying for and obtaining B.V.I. fishing licenses. Smith is a resident of St. Thomas but a citizen of the B.V.I., Berry said. He said that had he paid Smith $250 to renew Forever Fishing's license in late September 2002, but that the new license had not yet been obtained at the time of the brothers' arrest.
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