May 26, 2005 – Robert McAuliffe, champion of fisherman's rights, died from heart failure Wednesday, nine days after he experienced heart problems and was transported to a hospital in Puerto Rico. He was 66 years old.
McAuliffe served as president of the fisherman's cooperative and testified before the Virgin Islands' Senate and federal officials to preserve the rights of fishermen to fish in local waters. He was a non-voting member and head of the advisory board of the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, a federal organization for the conservation and orderly utilization of U. S. fishery resources. He was a member of the Blue Water Fishermen Association, the Highly Migratory Species Advisory panel, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas Technical Advisory member and St. Croix East End Marine Park Advisory Committee, among others.
McAuliffe, a life-long fisherman and a resident of St. Croix for more than 50 years, was easily identifiable by his signature blue jeans overalls, baseball cap and scruffy white beard. He made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2004. The main issue in his campaign was bringing fishermen's issue to the forefront.
Leslie, his wife of 19 years, said Thursday she tried to get him to change his choice of clothing for years, to no avail. "He said people would not recognize him without the overalls."
Leslie said they had no idea that Robert was sick. "I got a call from his cell phone on Monday the 16th; someone said they were driving Robert to the hospital." She said when she got to Juan F. Luis Hospital, the doctors told her Robert had a ruptured heart artery and he needed to be transported to Puerto Rico. Doctors in Puerto Rico performed open heart surgery. "He came through the surgery, but the doctors said we were not out of the woods yet," Leslie said. Robert made some progress in the week after the surgery, but remained under heavy sedation, according to Leslie. On Tuesday, he suffered a massive cardiac arrest and died the following day. "He was fighting to the end," Leslie said. The couple has three sons.
"Bob was a tough-hearted fisherman with strong opinions about fishing," said David Olsen, a St. Thomas resident and former director of the V.I. Fish and Wildlife. McAuliffe was known throughout the Virgin Islands as a leader and organizer of fishermen, he said. "He would tell stories about the history of the Caribbean red snapper going back over 30 years."
In a press release Thursday, Sen. Neville James said he would like to pay tribute to McAuliffe by naming the comprehensive fishing bill in his honor. The bill, which McAuliffe assisted in drafting, is presently going through the legislative process. "McAuliffe was respected and well known by many in the community, and his dedication to fishing was unmatched," James said. "Naming the bill in his honor would be a fitting tribute."
Leslie, who spent 25 years with Robert, said many members of his family lived into their 90s. "He promised me on the day we got married that he would live to be 100," she said.
Her husband will be cremated in a private ceremony, she said. A memorial service is being planned. "Some of his ashes will be scattered at sea. It's right that he goes back to the sea," she said.
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