Jan. 27, 2005 Partly due to the efforts of Sen. Louis Hill and Delegate Donna M. Christensen, the Caribbean Fishery Management Council voted Thursday to halt the closure of several fishing grounds in the territory. The vote came at the end of a two-day meeting which had begun Wednesday in Puerto Rico.
"We were able to get rid of all of the big closures," David Olsen, staff scientist for the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Fish and Wildlife Division.
This comes as welcome news to the territory's fishermen, many of whom rely solely on fishing for their income, and who were in staunch opposition to the closure of the fishing grounds. (See the St. Thomas article, "Fishermen, Politicians Speak out Against Proposed Federal Fishing Restrictions").
Olsen said all the major fishing grounds in the northern waters of the territory will remain open but not without a cost. The territory now has to adopt all the regulations of the federal government in exchange for the non-closure, Olsen said. Also, the territory must allow closure around spawning aggregations for three-month periods for red hind and snapper in St. Croix and conch in the waters around St. Thomas and St. John.
"This is a really illogical position that they've taken," Olsen said concerning the conch closures in the St. Thomas-St. John district, adding that most of the conch fishing is done in St. Croix.
Olsen said he was particularly impressed with the presentation from Hill's office on Wednesday, which "blanched" the face of the federal coordinator for Fishery Management Councils for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Colette Monroe, representative from Hill's office, had testified on behalf of the senator, who couldn't be there. Monroe told the group that Hill would offer a resolution before the Senate in February expressing the Legislature's opposition to the closure of any additional fishing grounds in the territory. Monroe said the resolution would be forwarded to President George W. Bush, Christensen, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior Department.
"The closure of the Grammanik Bank three weeks ago was based on limited observational data of a spawning aggregation of yellowfin grouper," Monroe read from Hill's testimony. "While the protection of spawning aggregations is universally promoted, the declaration that this bank is overfished is unproven and the closure of the bank, preceding this meeting today, is suspect."
Monroe said Thursday the main problem the fishermen and Hill had with the closures was the fact they were based on data from Puerto Rico and not from the territory itself.
Monroe said Thursday that the Fishery Council had used Puerto Rico's data because, as one person put it at the meeting, it was quicker. The local fisherman and their spokespeople have repeatedly criticized the Council's report because they don't feel it contains sufficient local data to support the action of closing fishing grounds in the V.I. waters.
Olsen said Christensen also told the group Thursday that she would offer a resolution before the U.S. Congress to extend the territorial waters by a 9-mile radius.
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