June 5, 2009 — Environmental enforcement officers of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources arrested six fishermen for the illegal use of gill nets and for harvesting conch out of season Wednesday.
About 3 p.m. DPNR enforcement officers using high powered binoculars saw two boats net fishing just south of Longford Beach, on the south side of St. Croix. The DPNR officers called the police for assistance and at this point the boats headed to the Krause Lagoon dock to disembark, whereupon police and DPNR officers approached and searched the vessels, according to Jamal Nielsen, DPNR's media relations coordinator.
Both vessels had more than 1,300 feet of gill net. One vessel contained more than 40 pounds of shelled conch while the other vessel had a few conch caught in the gill net. More than 250 pounds of fish were captured using the prohibited gill nets. Police arrested Homer Kelly, Frank K. Johnson, Austin Johnson, Angel Marrero, Hazel Chastanet, and Alexis Carmona, according to a statement from DPNR.
A prohibition on the use of gill and trammel nets in the territory was recommended by the Fisheries Advisory Committees in St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John Districts in 2004 because these types of nets catch large numbers of undesirable and undersized reef fish, accidentally take endangered sea turtles and are too thorough at catching parrotfish. (See "DPNR to Crack Down on Illegal Gill and Trammel Nets.")
After nets were banned, funds were distributed in 2008 to all fishermen who had used the gill net method of fishing through a net buy-back program paid for by a grant from the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The St. Croix conch season ended in April when DPNR announced St. Croix had exceeded the 50,000 pound annual quota established by regulation (Title 12 Chapter 9A, Subchapter 304 & 306). It closed April 30 and will remain closed until Nov. 1. Possession of queen conch during the closed season is prohibited.
The six fishermen face a maximum possible sentence of one year in jail and a thousand dollar fine, Nielsen said Friday.
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