May 8, 209 — St. Croix fishermen told the Caribbean Fishery Management Council they were none too happy at the prospect of new federal catch limits Thursday at a hearing aimed at getting public input on alternative ways of meeting the goals.
Miguel Rolón, CFMC's executive director, said the federal government is mandating that annual fish catch limits for some species be in place by 2010 to prevent a fisheries collapse, so on the agenda were the best options when it comes to setting annual catch limits for groupers, snappers, parrotfish and queen conch. Also, the council wants to establish annual catch limits for recreational fishermen. The council has come up with several alternatives that range from no action to adding additional areas to those already closed during spawning seasons. Other alternatives include reducing the fishing season and increasing the size of closed areas.
Along with the immediate economic impact of restrictions on their livelihood, fishermen said they were concerned the local restrictions were not based on local data, but on regional data, lumping the small and isolated Virgin Islands fisheries together with larger, more industrial-scaled Puerto Rican fisheries.
Delegate Donna Christensen weighed in in a letter read by her aide, Aesha Duval, acknowledging the importance of sustainable fisheries but expressing many of the same concerns made later by the fishermen in the room. The law under which these restrictions are mandated, the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act, requires social and economic factors be taken into consideration, Christensen said in the letter.
"Fishery issues in the Virgin Island and around the world encompass a myriad of biological, socio-economic, political and cultural sensitivities that must be considered when attempting mitigation," she wrote. Other concerns for her are "the lack of St. Croix and St. Thomas specific data to guide the proposals at hand, discrepancies in standards between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as well as the tendency to continue to hold one sector alone responsible for the degradation of our fisheries and oceans — the fishing community — while development is allowed to be done and runoff sewage leaked into our waters without similar repercussions," she wrote.
Edward Schuster, president of the St. Croix Commercial Fishermen's Association also said local fishing regulations should be based on local data, going on to say he believed local fisheries to be healthier than is being suggested.
"I am of the opinion here there is no overfishing," he said. "Everything caught here is used here; we don't export."
Schuster said he preferred a management plan that did not include annual catch limits.
St. Croix fisherman Thomas Daley offered detailed objections to some specific forms of restrictions and said there should be time between rounds of increased regulation to allow fishermen to adapt.
"We just came out of a major regulatory push with the gill net ban," Daley said. "Time should be given for (the fish) to come back before we start in with limits on bluefish." The council will meet on St. Croix June 23 and 24 to decide which options to modify, add or remove as part of the fisheries management plan, Rolón said. Meetings will also take place in Puerto Rico, which comes under the same council umbrella.
Further information on the council's proposed alternatives can be obtained on the council's website. Comments about the proposals and questions can be sent by e-mail or by the U.S. Postal Service to:
Miguel A. Rolón
US Department of Commerce
Caribbean Fishery Management Council
268 Muñoz Rivera Ave., Suite 1108
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00918-1920
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