The newly refurbished La Reine Fish Market on St. Croix, closed since 2007, reopened with pomp, ceremony and a ribbon cutting on Wednesday.
The new facility has 18 individual stalls and 12 cleaning stations with sinks and running water that are available for monthly rent to licensed commercial fishermen, according to a news release from Government House.
The new market also will have an ice machine, accessible restrooms, plentiful parking for customer access and a 20,000-gallon holding tank for fish waste, replacing the previous 5,000-gallon tank.
Although the facility has been closed since 2007, fishermen continued to sell seafood out of trucks and coolers on the land adjacent to the facility.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol made a priority of the work, which had been stalled for years. Sen. Kenneth Gittens also pushed to get the project started.
The government awarded the contract to Heights Construction and work began in May 2019.
Opened in 2002 at a cost of $205,000, the fish market was shut down just five years later, in November 2007, after a newspaper report cataloging problems prompted a closer look by the V.I. Health Department. That inspection found poor drainage and plumbing, unsanitary bathrooms and other maintenance problems.
Inspectors found full waste tanks, drains clogged with fish scales and broken restrooms. St. Croix fishermen applauded the closure at the time, with many saying conditions had deteriorated to a point where closing was necessary for repairs. Vandals jammed the drains with crushed beer cans.
In 2010, the Legislature approved bond funding for the La Reine work and $650,000 was nominally appropriated from several sources, but bids came in well above that figure. More money was appropriated in 2014.
At Wednesday’s ribbon cutting, Oriol said that in 2019, before the pandemic, almost 105,000 pounds of fish, representing about $627,000, were pulled from the waters of St. Croix, and in 2020, those numbers rose to 133,000 pounds of fish worth about $800,000.
“Those numbers represent an industry that is fragmented all over the place and not centralized,” Oriol said. “The completion of this facility shows that it is not just a renovation of the facility, but it demonstrates the commitment of the Bryan-Roach administration to supporting entrepreneurship in the commercial fishing industry here in St. Croix,” he said.
Oriol said that aside from a clean and secure environment for fish selling, it also allows Planning and Natural Resources to conduct its mandate for port-samplings of landings in a centralized area of the island.
Oriol said Wednesday’s reopening represents the first phase of a potential three- or four-phase project, and he said he has discussed with Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson the opportunities to provide the fish waste to farmers for fertilizer and the possibility of putting an organic garden on the five-acre fish market property.
“To the fishers of St. Croix that will operate out of this facility, I want you to know that this is your facility. If you take care of it, it will take care of you,” Oriol said. “If you have ideas on improvements that will make a larger impact for your business, I encourage you to please speak with the staff that will be stationed here.”
Bryan said the reopening of the La Reine market is part of his larger plan to support what he called the territory’s “blue economy” of ocean-related business, which includes fishing, charter and leisure boating industries, marine leisure businesses and his overarching marine industry initiatives.
“We have to grow and maintain all our industries, especially our marine industry,” Bryan said. “For a long time, we have governed with our back to the water. This administration is looking to the blue economy in order to make our people thrive,” he said.
“We have to support the fishing now, but we also have to support the future of fishing as our young people come along,” Bryan said in the news release.
The rent for individual stalls at the new La Reine Fish Market facility is $150 per month and cleaning stations are $75 per month. Anyone interested in becoming a tenant can contact Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Environmental Enforcement at 340-773-5774.