A $153,000 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant will help the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife collect local commercial and recreational fishing data to help gauge the health of local fisheries and inform federal fishery regulations.
In a statement from her office, Delegate Donna Christensen said she hopes the funds will assist in improving data on catch specific to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Christensen, along with many V.I. fishermen, has for some time now advocated collecting more detailed and thorough local data, with an eye toward tailoring local fishing regulations based upon specific local data, rather than regional data.
The annual NOAA grant allows Fish and Wildlife inspectors to go out and collect samples from fishing boats returning to port, noting the species caught, their weights and sizes, and process the data to look for signs of decline or improvement over time, said Jed Brown, Fish and Wildlife’s St. Croix fisheries chief.
The funds can also be used to collect and process data from commercial fishermen’s mandatory self-reports of their catches and to help process commercial fishing licenses, he said.
This NOAA grant funds the regular fishery data collection that Fish and Wildlife does annually and helps to fund its core fishery management activities, Brown said. Fishermen have been pressing for more species-level data, while the current system lumps some species together with their close cousins.
While this grant funds the same data collection that has occurred for years, local officials have been working both in-house and with NOAA on expanding data collection, Brown said.
"We developed a document, and it is up to NOAA to try to get funding for the data collecting," he said.
Improving data collection is important because it leads to more scientifically sound policies, Brown said.
"The better data we can collect, the better able we in the territory and the CFMC [Caribbean Fisheries Management Council] are able to manage the fisheries," he said.