The Department of Conservation and Fisheries has said they do not have adequate resources to police illegal fishing in the BVI and that at-sea patrols have not happened since about 2016.
Acting Chief Conservation Officer Kelvin Penn revealed this when he appeared before the 2019 Standing Finance Committee (SFC) in April.
According to a subsequent SFC report published this month, Penn had said: “Due to budgetary constraints, the monies to maintain both [our] vessels were not there and the ability to patrol has been lost over two to three years now. They used to conduct surveillance with the marine patrol from the Police and Customs but that came to a halt.”
He also said that since the 1997 enactment of the Fisheries Act, which gives the portfolio minister the authority to allow prohibited methods of fishing for a certain period of time, only two persons were prosecuted.
He told the SFC that those prosecutions occurred from the neighbouring US Virgin Islands.
“One of the men couldn’t pay the fine of $30,000.00 and spent six months in prison. Since the relationship between the USVI and BVI, the penalties were reduced and stands at a maximum fine of $15,000,” the report from Penn said.
BVI Fishing laws
BVI fishing laws only permit commercial fishing and mandate that only BVIslanders and Belongers can fish in the territory’s waters.
The law further states that persons must have a BVI Commercial Fishing licence to engage in the activity.
Certain techniques such as spearfishing are also prohibited in the territory. And according to a 2018 BVI News interview with Penn, the law limits the number of ways that persons can fish in the territory. Lobsters, for example, are to be fished using pots or traps.
Back in November 2018, the Conservation and Fisheries Department had issued a statement ordering charter boat captains and their guests to ‘cease and desist’ from harvesting spiny lobsters from the local seabed.