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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 12, 2024


May 5, 2003 – On Monday, the final day for submitting public comment on the proposed interim rules governing the new V.I. Coral Reef National Monument off St. John and the greatly expanded Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix, Delegate Donna M. Christensen announced that she has asked the National Park Service director for a number of concessions on behalf of local fishermen.
Christensen said she told the NPS director, Fran Mainella, in a letter that a series of town meetings in the territory had convinced her that local fishermen "will be significantly and adversely affected by the sudden and immediate closure of the areas on May 5."
In the waning days of his administration in January 2001, President Clinton by authority of the 1906 federal Antiquities Act designated seven new monuments across the nation, including the one off St. John, and expanded the existing one at Buck Island. The V.I. government challenged his authority to do so in the territory, claiming that the submerged lands were in territorial waters, and not part of the National Park system.
The General Accounting Office ruled eventually that the monuments lay within federally protected waters and that the president had acted within his authority. V.I. farmers and politicians have continued to raise objections, however.
In Monday's release, Christensen said that "to ensure that the concerns of fishermen are addressed," she has asked Mainella to have the National Park Service:
– Phase in the closure of the affected areas to fishing "to avoid sudden economic and emotional shock."
– Defer enforcement of the "no take" rule on fishing for a year while the General Management Plan gets under way.
– Work with Interior "to assist the territory in developing a plan to address the economic injury that will result in the permanent withdrawal of the monument areas for fishing."
– Work with Interior to secure retraining of local fishermen for other work.
– Work with the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to obtain grants and low-interest loans to equip affected fishermen for new opportunities."
– Secure forgiveness of federal disaster loans "that fishermen will now be unable to pay."
– Slightly reduce the boundaries of the V.I. Coral Reef Monument.
– Ensure that Virgin Islanders are part of public education efforts.
National Park Service officials, both local and off-island, have said that one long-term effect of the federal designations will be the replenishing of stock in depleted fishing grounds, which will also increase the stock in nearby waters where fishing is allowed.
Mainella, in testimony last July concerning the Coral Reef National Monument before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, acknowledged objections raised in the territory. "While we share concerns about the way in which these monuments were created," she said, "our job now is to ensure that we develop management plans in an open, inclusive, and comprehensive way."
She quoted her boss, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, as having said that "the planning for the future management of these monuments will be a model of what we call the four C's: Consultation, Cooperation and Communication, all in the service of Conservation." Mainella's full statement can be accessed on the Department of the Interior Web site.

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