In 2011, commercial fishermen reported they caught 255,698 pounds of spiny lobster with a value of $1.9 million. In 2010, the numbers stood at 245,783 pounds valued at $1.8 million.
“Lobster is a variable thing. It’s kind of volatile,” said Roy Pemberton, director of Planning and Natural Resources’ Fish and Wildlife Division.
Pemberton said the price for lobster can vary by a couple of dollars on a given day and depends on the market.
All of those lobsters are sold locally since the territory has no export market, he said.
Pemberton said that the size and numbers of lobsters has increased. He said no one’s sure why but it could be due to the increase of Sargasso weed around the territory, which provides a nursery for lobsters.
“It’s not unheard of to catch an 8-pound lobster,” Pemberton said, adding that there isn’t much market for lobsters that big because they don’t fit on a dinner plate.
Snappers, a favorite on restaurant menus as well as local dinner tables, came in at 214,167 pounds valued at $1.2 million in the 2011 report. In 2010, the numbers stood just about the same at 212,872 pounds worth $1.2 million.
According to the report, the territory’s entire commercial fishery was valued at $7.1 million in 2011. The data is buried in the 139-page report, but it also indicates that the territory’s fishermen caught 1.3 million pounds of fish.
The numbers are pretty close to those in the 2010 report, which indicated the territory’s fishermen caught a total of 1.4 million pounds of fish valued at $7.4 million.
“There is probably not a significant difference,” Pemberton said.
He said the numbers vary from year to year, but he said they won’t differ by much because there are catch limits in place for “every major species” to conserve the fishery.
However, he said it will be interesting to look at the 2012 figures to see what impact the Hovensa closure has on the commercial fishing industry.
“Maybe there were a lot of fish eaters,” he said.
Pemberton called the figures “parking lot” numbers, meaning they are ballpark figures because NOAA’s method of quantifying data from the Virgin Islands is not a top priority for the federal agency. He said more attention is given to data from places like Alaska that have a huge fishery.
“We’re trying to get NOAA to be more precise,” he said. NOAA bases its data on reports from the Virgin Islands.
Pemberton said the territory has 300 commercial fishermen with the majority residing on St. Croix.
Of the five U.S. territories included in the 2011 report, the Virgin Islands was the second highest producer of commercial fish. American Samoa far outstripped the territory when it came to poundage at 7.3 million pounds, but the monetary value was only slightly more than the territory’s at $8 million.
Nearby Puerto Rico reported 1 million pounds of fish worth $3.6 million.
To put this in perspective, the report indicates that in all the 50 states, commercial fishermen caught 10.1 billion tons of fish valued at $5.3 billion in 2011. Compared with 2010, the number of pounds is up 22.6 percent and the value is up 17.4 percent.
To see the entire report, visit http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/fus/fus11/FUS_2011.pdf