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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, December 1, 2023


A federal draft plan to conserve game fish should have little effect on the Virgin Islands because fishermen here have already put many of its provisions into effect.
That was the consensus Thursday night at a public hearing at the V.I. Game Fishing Club in Red Hook on the national Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management draft plan.
If anything, the fishermen said, the plan needs tighter controls on commercial swordfish operations, which they said have seriously depleted the number of game fish in V.I. waters.
Steve Meyers, hearing officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which drafted the plan, presented it to a full house of local sport, charter and small commercial fishermen. The plan, covering tuna, swordfish and sharks, drew interest in St. Thomas because of its potential effect on game fishing.
Local fishermen said the Virgin Islands has been a leader in most of the conservation measures suggested for sport fishing.
The major negative feedback about the plan, which seeks to establish ways to rebuild the overfished billfish stock, was the lack of tighter controls on long-line commercial fishing.
Several people raised concerns that incidental “by-catch” of marlin and sailfish by large-scale commercial fishing for swordfish was quickly reducing the number of game fish.
All charter sportfishing captains expressed fear that the lack of fish would lead to the end of the sportfishing industry in St. Thomas.
Capt. Al Petrosky, with 30 years' experience in Virgin Islands sportfishing, questioned the number of released marlin that actually survived and asked for data on tagged fish being caught again.
Jim Loveland suggested an outright ban on swordfish, saying that “by-kill” from the swordfish fleet was the major reason for smaller game fish catches.
After listening to the suggestions for the recreational fishermen, Capt. Red Bailey said, “We are way ahead of the draft plan here.”
Capt. Spike Herbert echoed Bailey, adding, “The rules they have for us are no big thing. We can work with them.”
After the formal meeting closed, Meyers discussed fine points of the draft plan and swapped stories with attendees. Many of the local fishermen knew Meyers from his previous work with the V.I. fish and wildlife office.

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