Feb. 2, 2006 – Some fishermen were disappointed Wednesday that the recreational fishing area as proposed in the East End Marine Park on St. Croix was not as large as they thought it should be. The proposal put forward at the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission's public hearing would limit recreational fishing to 2.8 percent of the park, within areas designated as recreation areas.
The proposal would designate 81.6 percent of the park as open fishing areas, 7 percent as turtle wildlife area, and a no-take area of 8.6 percent. These different areas have been established to minimize disturbance to marine life and their habitats to ensure protection and continuation of various marine species.
The recreation areas are designated for snorkeling, diving, catch and release fishing, cast net bait fishing, and boating. They include the areas of Teague Bay, Smugglers Cove, Cotton Garden Bay, Cramer's Park, and Turner Hole, and the area within 100 feet of the shoreline. Recreational line fishing from shore is permitted within 100 feet of the shoreline.
Edward Schuster, one of the fishermen who thought the recreational fishing area should be expanded, pointed out that there seemed to be a discrepancy as no commercial fishing was allowed along the shoreline but bait fishing was. He said most bait is caught for commercial purposes.
Schuster also said that park regulations should address the use of jet skis on park water.
What did not draw disagreement was the need for rules and regulations. The underlying agreement between the 40 some people who attended the public hearing was that this might be the last chance to preserve a pristine part of St. Croix shoreline.
Candid references were made to polluted places on the south shore, where one fisherman said he caught fish whose "skin was falling off." Another said he would not eat fish caught off that shore, and added he did not even want to touch them.
Claude Gerald, assistant director of the St. Croix Coastal Zone Management Office, gave an overview of plans for the East End Marine Park, which encompasses approximately 60 square miles on the eastern end of the island.
The shoreline of the park is approximately 17 miles long and extends from the high-tide line to the three-mile limit. It runs from the western border of Chenay Bay around Point Udall to the northern border of the Great Pond area. The park is intended to protect the natural and cultural resources there.
When a couple of people suggested that recreational conch fishing be allowed in the park, Toby Tobias, a biologist with the V.I. Fish and Wildlife Service, talked about the scarcity of conch off St. Croix beaches.
Tobias said that 87 percent of the conch in the area were not of legally harvestable size anyway. "If they are protected now, maybe in five years they will become a harvestable resource."
Most in attendance at the public hearing seemed to agree with Tobias who said, "We must tread cautiously, but I think we are on the right path."
Gerald also mentioned the effect of conch harvesting on the fragility of the coral reefs. He said that staghorn and elkhorn coral were hanging on in the East End Marine Park area and that these species were probably going to be soon listed as endangered.
One reason the threatened coral may be surviving in the park is because the east end of St. Croix has been developed less than other areas. According to "The State of Our Coral Reefs," a publication from the Ocean Conservancy, the sedimentation caused from runoff from development is detrimental to elkhorn and staghorn coral.
In a February press release concerning staghorn and elkhorn coral from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere said, "These formerly abundant corals have remained at low levels without noticeable recovery, and in cases where we have targeted monitoring data, they continue to decline. Threats to these species include physical damage from human activities and hurricanes, as well as disease and temperature-induced bleaching."
Gerald's news was more dramatic taken in context of the St. Croix NOAA seminar recently at the Nature Conservancy where all the news appeared bad. A NOAA scientist reported that last summer, because of high water temperature, coral around the Virgin Islands experienced the worse episode of bleaching ever recorded and no one was certain how much recovery was going to be made.
When coral bleaches it does not necessarily die, but there are indications that a good bit did die in the Virgin Islands this summer. Dead coral is not easily replaced. According to the Ocean Conservancy report, most coral takes five to 10 years to grow as large as a quarter.
If the two species of coral are put on the endangered species list, it will be the first time any coral has made the list.
John Beagles, of the CZM Commission, said the borders and the percentage of each of these areas was still up for discussion as were the rules governing each area.
Anyone desiring to make written comments on the proposed regulations must do so within 10 days of Wednesday's hearing, or before February 10.
The proposed regulations and address for comments can be found at www.stxeastendmarinepark.org).
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