V.I. National Park officials observed a St. Thomas commercial fisherman dropping fish pots inside the boundaries of the V.I. Coral Reef National Monument last week.
Danny Berry of St. Thomas, who operates the vessel m/v Rosaly, was cited for commercial fishing in a no take zone and fined $500, but he got off easy.
VINP Rangers could have fined Berry $500 for each of the 14 fish pots he placed in Coral Reef National Monument waters on Wednesday, March 6, explained VINP Chief Ranger Lloyd Morris.
“He could have been fined $500 for each of the pots we found,” said Morris. “Instead Ranger David Horner showed mercy and decided to issue one citation for the incident which he can pay without having to appear in federal court. We try to give the lowest penalty for initial incidents.”
“We try to be as understanding and sensitive as possible,” Morris said. “We try to educate and inform. If we catch him again, the penalty will be higher.”
VINP Enforcement Ranger David Horner observed a boat dropping fish pots “well within” the boundary of Coral Reef National Monument — located in the Hurricane Hole area of St. John near Coral Bay — around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 6, according to Morris.
Horner, who was watching from the Concordia area, contacted Morris for support. Morris picked Horner up at Salt Pond Bay in a VINP vessel and tracked down m/v Rosaly just outside of VINP waters, according to the chief ranger.
“When we caught up with the vessel it was just outside of park boundaries and we spoke to him and told him what was observed,” said Morris. “He had the GPS coordinates of his fish pots and we showed him where the monument is located.”
Berry returned to Coral Reef National Monument with the VINP rangers and picked up four fish pots from one location.
“He told us there were only four more pots in the second location,” said Morris. “But when we got to the spot, there were actually 10 more pots.”
VINP officials did not confiscate the pots, Morris added.
Berry, who has been a commercial fisherman for 12 years, claimed he didn’t know his pots were placed within the boundaries of the Coral Reef National Monument, Morris explained.
“He initially claimed he didn’t know he was in monument waters, but commercial fishermen have a responsibility to know where they’re dropping their pots,” said Morris. “Many people like to push the envelope and drop the pots right on the edge, but these were at least 300 yards inside the monument.”
There is no fishing of any kind allowed in Coral Reef National Monument waters. In VINP waters, only line fishing is allowed, and not in any swim areas. There is no spear fishing allowed anywhere in VINP or Coral Reef National Monument waters.
Anyone who sees illegal fishing in Coral Reef National Monument should call VINP Enforcement Rangers at 776-6201 ext. 246, 244 or 254.