Recreational fishing licenses being considered for Virgin Islands


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ST. THOMAS — About a dozen people gathered at the V.I. Game Fishing Club on Tuesday night to give their input on a potential recreational fishing license program in the Virgin Islands.

The Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife has been working on the new regulations with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coral Reef Initiative Program and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council.

DPNR has put out a report that lists different ways the V.I. government could go in setting up a recreational fishing license program. The department is now seeking public comment so the options can be narrowed down. The public meetings continue on St. Croix today.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife hired consultant MRAG Americas to help develop the options included in the report. Feedback from a joint subcommittee — made up of members of the St. Thomas-St. John Fishery Advisory Council and the St. Croix Fishery Advisory Council — was used to draft the report.

“Discussions of key components of fishery regulations attempted to find a single consensus recommendation as an alternative to the status quo for each component.

However, such consensus rarely occurred, and the joint subcommittee typically put forward two or more alternatives that would go out for public comment,” the report said.

The report goes through various topics — licenses, penalties, size and bag limits — and lists several options for each one. In each case there is a baseline option — leaving things the way they are now.

Robert Trumble, vice president of MRAG Americas, said that the federal government has already implemented a national recreational fishing registration program that the territory will have to comply with unless it comes up with its own licensure program and fishing regulations.

“At the same time license fees are a source of revenue to help manage the fishery that the fishermen are fishing on,” Trumble said.

Stewart Loveland, owner of Neptune Fishing Supplies, said he does not understand the need to regulate the handful of recreational fishermen in the Virgin Islands.

“I cannot see that recreational fishermen would have an impact,” he said, referring to the fish stocks in the territory.

St. Thomas Fisheries Advisory Council member Ray Campbell said while he agrees in some respects, the new rules and regulations will allow the territory to manage its own fisheries.

“This whole thing is about keeping the feds out of here,” he said.

The draft document gave several options for the cost of fishing licenses. Annual rates of either $20 per person, or $50 per vessel and then $5 to $10 per person will be considered.

For non-residents, the fees would vary based on the length of time the angler would be fishing in the territory.

Charter boat fishing licenses may also have a different fee structure.

Several charter boat owners said Tuesday that they would rather have an annual fishing license charged to the boat instead of asking individual tourists to obtain a fishing license prior to the trip. While it would cost the owners more money, they could build it into the rental price and it would make things easier for the clients.

The sale of fish by recreational anglers is not allowed under the proposed rules. The only exemption would be charter vessels that have commercial fishing licenses.

Some charter owners sell their catch — mostly pelagic species like blue marlin and tuna — to make a little extra money. The charter owners at Tuesday’s meeting did not want restrictions on selling fish.

The report also explores options for fishing regulations, including catch size or bag limits for various species of fish and shellfish.

“I feel you have to have some sort of bag limits on recreational fishing,” St. John resident James Kreglo said.

Currently, there is no penalty for fishing without a license. The report suggests that a penalty of 10 times the license fee would be assessed to unlicensed anglers. A penalty would also be incurred for violating size or bag limits, although dollar amounts are not laid out in the DPNR report.

Trumble said specific penalties would have to be legislated.

“Generally, Fish and Wildlife does not have the authority to establish penalties,” Trumble said. “That’s a legal issue.”

Spearfishing was also discussed Tuesday, but Trumble said the proposed options for recreational fishing do not prohibit it. He said the bag limits will be what is important, the method for catching the fish is not an issue.

The public meetings are scheduled to continue on St. Croix today, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., at the University of the Virgin Islands, Northwest Wing Great Hall.

The draft rules and regulations for recreational fishing can be reviewed at the DPNR Division of Fish and Wildlife and Environmental Enforcement offices, Enid Baa Library, Neptune Fishing Supply, Florence Williams Library and Poolworks.

The fishing community is encouraged to attend to offer recommendations and feedback on the proposed rules. Written comments can be submitted to the Division of Fish and Wildlife offices in both districts.

“We’re definitely interested in your opinions and we want to make sure your opinions are brought into the decision making process,” Trumble said.

For information, call the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 775-6762 on St. Thomas or 772-1955 on St. Croix.

— Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 774-8772 ext. 311 or e-mail alewin@dailynews.vi.
 

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