La Reine Fish Market Renovation Looks Like It’s Really Starting

A man cleans fish in the closed La Reine Fish Market in March. (Bill Kossler photo)
A man cleans fish in the closed La Reine Fish Market in March. (Bill Kossler photo)

After being closed more than a decade, work on renovating the La Reine Fish Market on St. Croix is slated to start May 6 and expected to be done in about six months, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced Tuesday.

Meanwhile the facility will be closed and not authorized for use by anyone.

The contract was awarded to Heights Construction.

“Basically we are enclosing the stalls, with individual bays, like in St. Thomas’ (Gustave) Quetel Fish House,” said Howard Forbes, director of environmental enforcement at DPNR.

One major change from the past will be that fishermen will need to apply for a rental contract to use the facility. Each bay will have electrical and water hookups.The renters will be responsible for their own electric and water bills.

Forbes said plans include an an ice machine, with crushed and cubed ice, to sell to fishermen. The parking is going to be resurfaced and the facility surrounded by security fencing. Bays should have roll-down doors.

Drainage and disposal of scales and other material were a major issue at the old facility.

The drainage work has already been completed, Forbes said.

“But we will be installing additional holding tanks and a grinding machine, to grind up and pulverize the guts and scales,” he said.

The material will go into holding tanks that, when filled, will be pumped out.

Plans call for garage-like doors designed to withstand 120 to 130 mile an hour winds, and renters will be able to enter from a steel door at the back of the facility.

“We are also looking at putting in an office space for when Fish and Wildlife has to do port sampling,” to measure the weight, size and species of fish, he said.

The restrooms will also be remodeled, he said, and a maintenance plan will be put in place so there may be someone on site to manage the facility.

Although the facility has been closed since 2007, fishermen sell seafood out of trucks and coolers on land adjacent to the facility.

Executive branch agencies – DPNR and Public Works – issued the contracts and, nominally, the funding has been in place for years. While the Senate has no direct authority over this process, work began not long after Senate President Kenneth Gittens toured the area in February and said he would make it a high priority.

Opened in 2002 at a cost of $205,000, the fish market was shut in November 2007 after a newspaper report cataloging problems with the market prompted a closer look by the V.I. Health Department, which found poor drainage and plumbing, unsanitary bathrooms and other maintenance problems.

Inspectors found full waste tanks, broken restrooms and drains clogged with fish scales. Vandals jammed the drains with crushed beer cans.

Fishermen lauded the closure at the time, with many saying conditions had deteriorated to a point where closing was necessary for repairs.

In 2010, the Legislature approved bond funding for the La Reine work and the Senate appropriated $650,000 from several sources. But bids came in well above that figure. More money was appropriated in 2014.

At times in the past, senators have appropriated sums from sources which did not actually have the requisite money, or for amounts insufficient to carry out the work. Some projects are long-delayed for other reasons, including being a low priority for whichever administration is in office.

But, 12 years later, it looks like work is about to begin.