Regulations governing commercial fishing in federal waters for 132 species of Caribbean fish got the final approval Friday from the U.S. Commerce Department.
Information provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the Commerce Department, indicated the implementation date is Jan. 30. Sera Drevenak, a senior associate for the Southeast and Caribbean Fish Conservation Campaign at the Pew Environment Group, said the date was Jan. 29. The Pew group, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts, seeks to strengthen global environmental policies and practices and protect terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and sent out a press release lauding the final approval.
The territory has jurisdiction up to three miles offshore and the federal government beyond that up to 200 miles. After that, the waters are considered international.
St. Croix resident Carlos Farchette, who serves as the chairman of the Caribbean Fishery Management Council and secretary of the Fisheries Advisory Committee on St. Croix, said the 132 species include those that are overfished as well as those that are not in danger.
The new regulations set “hard” catch limits for those species on the list. Drevenak said this mean that if the limits are exceeded the fishery will be shut down. While catch limits on some species were previously in place, she said the fishery wasn’t always closed.
“In several of the past years, the queen conch limit was blown by more than 200 percent,” she said.
This list includes Nassau grouper, parrotfish, angel fish, and queen conch, the Pew statement indicated.
Locally, Farchette said the fish to be concerned about include several species of snapper and grouper as well as parrot fish, lobster and conch.
According to the NOAA information, the rule modifies regulations for the spiny lobster, angelfish, boxfish, goatfish, grunts, wrasses, jacks, scups and porgies, squirrelfish, surgeonfish, triggerfish and filefish, tilefish, queen conch, and corals and reef associated plants and invertebrates, fishery management units, including aquarium trade species.
The regulations were a long time in the making but got the OK from the Caribbean Fishery Management Council in August. Drevenak said there was some initial resistance, but fishermen are now “amenable” to the idea.
“In the short term people give up something, but in the long term, it will create a healthy, vibrant fishery,” Drevenak said.
She said she hopes that the local government will establish regulations that mirror the federal ones for local waters. Farchette concurred. “I see it happening,” he said.
Farchette said that the local government had to wait for the federal government to finish its work before it could set up regulations for local waters. He said it will be up to the Planning and Natural Resources Department to promulgate those regulations.
Roy Pemberton, who heads Planning’s Fish and Wildlife Division, said he has to first sit down and evaluate what the federal regulations say.
“We have to look at the ramifications for local waters,” he said.
Pemberton said local fishermen are already discussing the matter and it will be a topic at the January meeting of Fisheries Advisory Council.
Holly Binns, a project director for Pew, said in a press release that the plans mark a major milestone in the decades-long effort to end overfishing of dozens of depleted species. The new rules will help dwindling species recover and assist in preventing overfishing from occurring by protecting relatively healthy species now before they can plummet to critically low levels.
“For the first time, fishery managers have the tools to more easily spot declines in fish populations and take action quickly to avoid reaching a crisis. This proactive approach should help reduce the establishment of severe fishing restrictions that become necessary when species are depleted,” Binns said.
She called the new catch limits reasonable and based on sound scientific recommendations.
“There is still much work to be done, however, to ensure that the new system is effective and limits are enforced. Overall, in a region where overfishing has taken a severe toll, these plans blaze a new path in managing fish that are vital for a healthy ocean ecosystem and coastal economy,” she said.