US seeks to protect parrotfish, reefs in USVI (Update)

Mar 15, 2013 by Danica Coto

U.S. officials are seeking to limit the number of parrotfish caught in federal waters off St. Croix to help protect the brightly colored species, as well as fragile Caribbean coral reefs.

The National Marine Fisheries Service began collecting public comments on its proposal this week before issuing a decision. The agency would establish a minimum size limit on parrotfish, long a popular dish in St. Croix, the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands.

An estimated 142 of 177 small businesses in St. Croix are likely to be affected by the proposal, which calls for an 8- to 9-inch limit of certain parrotfish species, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The proposal would apply to both commercial and recreational fishermen.

Parrotfish make up nearly 37 percent of all fish commercially caught in St. Croix in terms of pounds, compared with 2 percent in Puerto Rico and 7 percent in St. Thomas and St. John.

If the proposal is approved, St. Croix could see a loss of up to 13,900 pounds (6,300 kilograms) of parrotfish a year, and a total annual revenue loss ranging from $4,800 to nearly $70,000 for small businesses, the federal agency found.

The losses could be a big hit to fishermen in St. Croix, which is still reeling from the January 2012 closure of the Hovensa oil refinery.

Gerson Martinez, a St. Croix fisherman, said in a phone interview that while he agrees with the proposed regulation after reaching a compromise with U.S. officials, it would still have a significant impact if approved.

"That's what people eat here," he said. "It's a fish that generations of people have loved for its taste. Restaurants sell a lot of them."

Martinez used to sell up to 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) of parrotfish a week to restaurants, but he has since switched to more lucrative lobster fishing.

Federal officials say they want to further protect parrotfish because they eat a significant amount of algae, which can smother and kill reefs. The fish also has become more relevant in the past 30 years given the demise of the longspine sea urchin, which grazes on algae, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Caribbean has nearly 8,000 square miles (20,720 sq. kilometers) of coral reefs, most of which are in very poor state. Many have been killed by warm waters and suffocated by algae and seaweed.

U.S. officials say the proposal would also ensure survival of the parrotfish species.

Andrea Treece, an attorney with San Francisco-based Earthjustice, said she was pleased with the proposal. But she said it does not affect a lawsuit the organization filed in January 2012 against the National Marine Fisheries Service, alleging that federal regulators violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing the harvesting of parrotfish at high rates.

"It's important to allow parrotfish to get big enough so they can reproduce successfully," she said in a phone interview.

Earthjustice is representing environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity. A judge is currently reviewing the case, Treece said.

In December 2011, the U.S. government prohibited the harvest in U.S. Caribbean waters of the three largest parrotfish species: blue, midnight and rainbow. It also limited recreational harvesting of parrotfish.

Explore further: 'Safer' pesticide could create toxic mercury, study says

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Coral Reefs: Ever Closer to Cliff's Edge

Nov 01, 2007

A study in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Nature uses a novel analytical approach to assess the health of failing Caribbean coral reefs and offer suggestions for saving them.

Puerto Rico aims to protect newly discovered reefs

Jan 14, 2011

(AP) -- As the ocean floor plunges off southwestern Puerto Rico, it reveals coral reefs dotted with bright-blue sea squirts and a multitude of other organisms whose existence has given hope to scientists ...

Tropical Storm Maria threatens eastern Caribbean

Sep 10, 2011

(AP) -- Tropical Storm Maria swirled toward the eastern Caribbean on Friday, threatening to unleash heavy rain and wind on islands still struggling to recover from a recent hurricane.

St Maarten finds local lionfish tainted with toxin

Nov 26, 2011

(AP) -- Conservationists in St. Maarten are warning islanders not to eat lionfish after tests found a naturally occurring toxin in the flesh of the candy-striped invasive species, officials said Thursday.

Belize protected area boosting predatory fish populations

Dec 21, 2011

A 14-year study by the Wildlife Conservation Society in an atoll reef lagoon in Glover's Reef, Belize has found that fishing closures there produce encouraging increases in populations of predatory fish species. ...

Recommended for you

Study to inform Maryland decision on "fracking"

2 hours ago

The Maryland Department of Environment and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released on August 18, 2014, a report by the University of Maryland School of Public Health, which assesses the potential ...

How the Asian monsoon affects methane emissions

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Scientists at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute have shown how changes in the Asian monsoon affected emissions of methane, a prominent greenhouse gas, from the Tibetan Plateau.

User comments : 0