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No One Shows Up for Public Meeting On Fisheries Plan

March 21, 2005 –– Education, enforcement and conservation will go a long way toward preserving the territory's marine resources and fisheries, Ron Sjoken said at a meeting Monday held by the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
Sjoken, a fisheries biologist with Fish and Wildlife, spoke about the division's proposed Marine Resources and Fisheries Strategic and Comprehensive Conservation Plan at the St. John Legislature building.
He made his Power Point presentation to the only person who showed up for the meeting –– a Source reporter.
Sjoken said he expects a bigger turnout, particularly from fishermen, at the St. Thomas and St. Croix meetings.
They will be held April 7 at the V.I. Gamefishing Club in Red Hook, St. Thomas, and April 8 at the University of the Virgin Islands Research Extension room on St. Croix.
Both meetings will run from 7 to 9 p.m.
Sjoken said that the division solicited input from various user-groups when developing the plan.
"The reason we wrote the plan is to be eligible for future funding," he said of the federal money that flows into Fish and Wildlife.
During his presentation, he said that the federal government funds nearly 100 percent of Fish and Wildlife's budget.
Sjoken said before the meeting that the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, not Fish and Wildlife, oversees fishing area closures. The council is an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The council plans to meet May 3 and 4 at the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel on St. Thomas to discuss closing some fishing areas.
The closures are a hot topic, and Sen. Louis P. Hill weighed in on the matter Monday. He sponsored a resolution asking for intervention before more fishing grounds are closed. The resolution, signed by Gov. Charles Turnbull, went to President Bush, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and Delegate Donna M. Christensen.
Hill said in a news release that for any fisheries management plan to be effective there must be full coordination between fishermen and marine scientists because fishermen see first hand the fluctuations in fish populations and spawning aggregations.
He said that scientists know the critical role healthy fish populations play, especially to the reefs, and have a responsibility to protect them.
Hill also said that runoff from poorly planned development is severely impacting the reefs and that little is being done to enforce existing laws.
Sjoken said that the council used a lot of data from Puerto Rico in determining what fishing areas to close. He said that Fish and Wildlife is trying to analyze its 20 years worth of data to see if closing fishing areas is the right move.
In discussing enforcement issues during his presentation, Sjoken said that Planning's enforcement officers should attend the police academy to improve their skills. He did not elaborate further, but did say, "There may be federal government support for this."
He said that when a NOAA fisheries officer based in the Virgin Islands retired, he was not replaced. That is a further problem with federal enforcement, he said.
The plan is available for viewing at www.vifishandwildlife.com.

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