Statement on Vote on Plans to Save Caribbean Fish Species

Statement on Vote on Plans to Save Caribbean Fish Species

Holly Binns, manager of the Pew Environment Group's Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast, and Paul Chakroff, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association and member of the board of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, issued the following statements today in response to the Caribbean Fishery Management Council's vote on plans to end overfishing and enact new rules to place limits on catch of 35 species.

Statement of Holly Binns:
“This plan is an important first step toward sustainable fishing, protecting coral reefs and allowing species to rebound, but we are disappointed that parts of the plan were weakened. As Caribbean fish populations continue to decline, this is the time for strong action to preserve the invaluable Caribbean ecosystem that draws tourists from around the world and powers the local economy. As fishery managers collect more information about fish populations, we'll see if these measures are strong enough to get the job done and end overfishing.”

Statement of Paul Chakroff:
“The plan is a step in the right direction, although it could have been stronger. Without healthy fish populations, the ocean ecosystem suffers, our world-renowned coral reefs decline and we all endure the consequences. Our home attracts tourists from far and wide and we need to be certain it remains the idyllic paradise we all treasure. The council has taken steps to preserve our way of life and stronger action may be needed in the future. But today, we built a solid foundation to protect our precious resources and our future.”

Many Caribbean fish species are at dangerously low population levels. Studies already have linked the staggering decline of coral reefs to overfishing, and unsustainable fishing rates are the most likely cause of the loss of large predator fish. The council's plan places new fishing limits on 35 species, ranging from queen conch to parrotfish, which help keep coral reefs healthy by eating algae. The rules, which need final approval from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, could reduce catches by 15 percent, depending on the species. They are designed to ensure fishermen are not catching fish faster than they can reproduce.

This is not the first time fishery managers have acted to end overfishing. For instance, in 1990, they set restrictions on some fishing gear and prohibited the catch of some fish. And in 2005, fishing limits for other species were enacted but not made binding.

The current proposal is based on recommendations from the council's scientific experts and an advisory panel composed of recreational and commercial fishermen. Caribbean islands will get their own individual limits and rules. That means what happens in Puerto Rico will not impact fishermen in St. Croix. The public had a chance to comment during public hearings in July.

Fishermen affected by the cuts may be able to supplement their income through legislation that is gaining steam in the U.S. Congress. About 60 lawmakers, including V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, are pushing the Coastal Jobs Creation Act—$80  million over five years to help fishermen while depleted fish populations are restored. The measure would create jobs for fishermen to perform research with scientists, remove marine debris, revitalize ports and participate in projects to restore fish habitat.

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