Operation Monument Sweep Targets Abandoned Traps

Oct. 28, 2004 – V.I. Coral Reef National Monument recently started a multi-year program to get rid of the hundreds of illegal and abandoned traps that litter its ocean floor, chief ranger Steve Clark said Thursday.
"We're going to sweep every square foot of the monument, and it's going to take years," Clark said.
While abandoned traps, called ghost traps or death traps, are the biggest problem, Clark said that there are a handful of fishermen who still set their traps in monument waters. He said the biggest areas for poachers are off Reef Bay and Salt Pond, both on St. John's south side. He said he doesn't see too much of a problem in the Hurricane Hole section of the monument.
The park will conduct surveillance activities and offer rewards to informants to catch those still dropping fish traps in monument waters.
"With poaching, we see two, three, four and up to six or even many more traps tied together," Clark said.
Clark said that instead of using buoys, the fishermen link their traps together with polypropylene line. It floats about five feet below the water's surface, but is difficult to see unless you know where to look. The fishermen come through with a grappling hook attached to their boats to pick up the lines.
Those fishermen caught poaching face a fine of up to $5,000 for just one trap. Since these are federal waters, it is a federal offense. They will be charged with unlawful taking of whatever species of fish they're caught trapping.
Clark said he hopes for voluntary compliance. "If you get your traps out, that's fine with us," he said.
Ghost traps are those that have been abandoned by the fishermen. They continue to catch fish for years until they deteriorate. The fish die in the traps because they have no way to escape.
"It's a never-ending killing machine," Clark said.
The regulations at Coral Reef National Monument are designed to protect the fish habit so the region's dwindling fish population can recover.
"The hope is that as the fish populations recover in the monument they will spill over to areas outside the monument," Rafe Boulon, chief of resource management at Coral Reef National Monument and V.I. National Park.
Clark said that since Operation Monument Sweep began Oct. 11, the park has picked up about a dozen traps.
The park bought a high-tech piece of equipment called a Proton Accession Magnetometer to locate the traps. When the instrument picks up something that looks like a fish trap, the crew notes the location using Global Positioning System coordinates. Clark said the U.S. Coast Guard then assists with one of its cutters to hoist the traps up.
Clark said that fishermen who have complied with the no-trap regulations have complained that some of their colleagues are still dropping traps within the monument.
He said that while fish traps are prohibited in Coral Reef National Monument, non-commercial fishermen can bait fish in Hurricane Hole. They may also tie up to moorings to fish for blue runner, which is also called hardnose.
Clark reminded fishermen that Coral Reef Monument and V.I. National Park have different sets of regulations. For more information, call Clark at 776-6201, ext. 254.

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