FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Colleen Angeles
In an effort to conserve and protect valuable coral reef resources, reef fish stocks and their habitats, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in collaboration with the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, today established the Hind Bank Marine Conservation District off the U.S. Virgin Islands. Within this 16- square nautical mile designated marine conservation district, fishing and anchoring of fishing vessels will be prohibited. This action is in response to a Fishery Management Plan Amendment proposed by the Council and published as a proposed rule by NOAA Fisheries.
"Recognizing that certain areas are so biologically diverse that they need full protection, the Caribbean Fishery Management Council has done the right thing in establishing the Hind Bank Marine Conservation District," said Dr. D. James Baker, NOAA Administrator. "The Council was instrumental in this significant achievement and bold advance in marine conservation and management. Protection of this important spawning area is an investment in the future of the region's fisheries and valuable coral reef ecosystems."
Caribbean coral reefs have been under considerable ecological stress as a result of the effects of coastal development, deforestation, pollution, fishing and diseases. Since 1991, Hind Bank specifically, located southwest of St. Thomas, has been closed to fishing from December through February to protect red hind spawning aggregations. A 1997 report indicated that the closure was having a positive effect in terms of increased abundance and size of red hind. Now, with the Council's approval, the seasonal closure which affected all fisheries, including those for highly migratory species such as tuna, billfish and sharks, will be extended year-round.
Although some fishermen will be required to move from their customary fishing grounds, it is not anticipated that there will be any major problems. The Council considered several alternatives, including the possibility of allowing some fishing within the district to accommodate handline fishermen; however, the Council determined that any fishing activities within the district could adversely affect spawning aggregations, degrade the reef ecosystem, and complicate enforcement. To ensure continued abundance and diversity of reef resources, the Council recommended that no fishing be allowed.
"The Council and NOAA believe that this essential resource management strategy will result in a sustainable environment and economy," added Baker.
Marine conservation districts, such as Hind Bank, will strengthen other conservation and management measures established by regional fishery management councils and other state and federal agencies. Measures include: identifying essential fish habitat and provisions to protect it; protection from fishing gear such as traps and bottom longlines that have the potential to damage coral reefs; prohibitions on harvesting corals and "live rock"; seasonal closed areas to protect fish when they aggregate to spawn; and other fishery conservation and management measures.
NOAA will co-chair the third meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force convening on November 2-3, 1999 in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The meeting will focus on action plans for future coral-reef related protection, monitoring and restoration activities. Marine protected areas will be among the key items addressed.
Dr. Baker will further discuss the establishment of the Hind Bank Marine Conservation District at a press conference scheduled for Tuesday, November 2 at 11:30am at the Marine Conference Center, Tamarind Reef Hotel.