Photo © Don Hebert
UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
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Walk into any island restaurant and chances are, freshly caught local fish is on the menu. Combining the ever-increasing demand for fresh fish such as wahoo, mahi, grouper and tuna with the excitement of sport fishing for big game such as marlin and billfish, fishing is a major industry in both the commercial and recreational sectors.
As a result of a growing population and higher demand, fishermen face many challenges, between economy and conservation.
There are many factors affecting the decrease in the fish population. Pollution is a key factor, as is overfishing and the decimation caused by lionfish infestation. The threat to local fisheries is real, but so is the economic impact on the marine industry. Local fishermen depend on this time-honored tradition for their livelihood and tourism depends heavily on the natural beauty of the underwater ecosystem.
The Caribbean Fisheries Management Council (CFMC), with help from scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the National Marine Fisheries Service and territorial agencies, is charged with the task of conserving, restoring and managing the fishery resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A sustainable management plan has been a line of contention, pitting conservationists against fishermen in a long battle. Everyone agrees that a management plan is essential. Preservationists favor a strict set of regulation on catch limits and closures.
Fishermen agree–to a point. Outdated or incomplete federal studies group the U.S. Virgin Islands with Puerto Rico, which boasts a much larger commercial fishing industry using commercial haulers. Virgin Islands fishermen pushed for separate studies to more accurately reflect the current fisheries status.
The St. Thomas Fishermen’s Association and the St. Croix Commercial Fishermen’s Association participated in a series of new studies, and hold positions on the CFMC.
2. New Dockside Inspection RegulationsA new regulation requires that commercial fishing vessels operating more than three nautical miles offshore undergo a U.S. Coast Guard dockside safety examination. The free inspection focuses on safety equipment and operational requirements. A Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety decal remains valid up to two years. Go to www.fishsafe.info for more information and a safety equipment checklist.3. Fresh FishMore and more seafood restaurants, particularly those near marinas, are now offering fresh seafood markets. You can also buy direct from the fishermen, best early in the morning as they return from a night of fishing. You’ll often see stands along the road or near the fishing ramps. Your best chances for fresh fish are the Gustave Quetel Fish House in Frenchtown on St. Thomas and at Albert Edwards Fish Market in Frederiksted, St. Croix. They’ll filet it for a small charge and give you a few cooking tips if asked.1. Fishing PermitsRecreational fishing does not require a permit in the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, local authorities are considering the implementation of permits in the near future. Recreational fishermen may not use pots, traps, set-nets or haul seines and may not sell their catch. Many charter boats and fishing tournaments have adopted a catch and release policy.Photo courtesy of Mixed Bag2. New Dockside Inspection Regulations3. Fresh Fish1. Fishing Permits
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No passport is required for U.S. citizens traveling to the U.S.V.I., if another proof of citizenship, such as driver’s license or birth certificate with picture ID, is available. Non-U.S. visitors need a valid passport and appropriate visa. No immunizations are necessary.
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