In 2007 when I was Director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the St. Croix net fishermen, recognizing that they were under pressure to address a number of issues in their fishery, met to develop a management proposal of their own rather than a complete ban. They proposed:
1. Limiting the number of fishermen using nets to 9 people currently fishing.
2. Restrictions on the length, mesh size and depth of the nets to be used.
3. Identification of areas where nets can and cannot be used. (Not on or adjacent to coral reefs)
4. Requirement that license holder must be present while net is in water.
5. Requirement for reduction in the by catch of non-commercial sizes and species.
6. An annual 200,000 lb. quota for landings in the form of individual quotas equally divided among themselves. Note that this is 40,000 lbs less than the limit passed by the Caribbean Fishery Management Council.
7. Authority for the Commissioner to close the fishery once the quota is reached and to amend the quota should data indicate the need for closure following harvest of the quota.
8. Requirements for monthly reporting of landings.
9. Agreements for the fishermen to have their catches sampled.
10. Penalties for noncompliance.
11. Licenses could not be transferred. If a fisherman left the fishery that portion of the quota would be retired. Three have, which would have reduced the overall quota by another 66,000 lbs.
The St. Croix Fishery Advisory Committee narrowly passed a motion to implement this plan but when the anti net effort felt that they would lose their little “victory” they began a campaign of letters to the media which eventually wore down DPNR Commissioner Mathes who went along and implemented the ban instead of the management plan. This was not a victory in any sense of the word. What was lost was 5 years of significantly reduced landings, below even that being asked by the Council and a group of St. Croix fishermen who would have been in a position to participate in managing their resource. This idea that off-island NGOs and their local fronts would prefer go to the courts rather than deal directly with the primary stakeholders is a waste of everyone’s time, money and good will.
What will come of it is increased antagonism and distrust that will lead to unreliable data and more failure to manage the resources. SEA, PEW and the Center for Biological Diversity lost this battle in 2007 when they failed to support the net fishermen of St. Croix.
David A. Olsen, Ph.D.
St. Thomas Fishermen’s Association