Virgin Islanders have fished for centuries to feed their families and bring in income. Many fishers use seine or gill nets to capture schooling mackerel, yellowtail snapper, and jacks. Others use fish traps, locally known as fish pots. These traps are made of wire mesh built on a wooden or metal rectangular frame. Depending on local conditions, they are set singly or strung together. Some fishers use buoys to identify where they left their pot—others rely on memory or GPS coordinates. Fish caught in these traps are sometimes called pot-fish. You will also see children and adults standing near the water’s edge with a line—they are hoping to bring home supper.
Used in moderation by fishers who appreciate the need for balance in nature, none of these fishing methods is necessarily destructive. But there is increasing evidence that the Virgin Islands  fishery is declining. A 1991 study on the fishery in the U.S. Virgin Islands found that the average size of many popular species, including parrot fish, grunt, and triggerfish, is declining while large grouper, the single most important commercial species, is all but gone. Another study of the fishery around St. Croix conducted from 1997 to 2001 showed a 10 percent decrease in the average fish weight over the period and a 40 percent decline in the number of fish per fish-pot haul. There is no data on the British Virgin Islands fishery, although anecdotal evidence suggests that fish numbers and sizes are decreasing there as well.
The fishery decline is due to several factors, but it boils down to this: Too many fish are being taken from the sea. Conservationists say that fish pots are one source of the problem because if they are lost—if they come loose from the rope or the fisher can’t find them—then they become floating death traps. Fish swim in but can’t swim out. The fish that enter the trap eventually die, attracting more fish. Others say that more and more fishers are not following traditional fishing rules: They take fish that are too small or while they are spawning. Scarcity of fish has also pushed some fishers to use scuba gear and fish guns—a practice that also upsets the balance between humans and nature.
Quite a bit is being done about the loss of fish stock, but success depends on better enforcement and on viewing fishers as partners, not adversaries. Both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands have closed seasons for many of the most popular, and most vulnerable, species of fish, as well as other creatures like lobster and conch. There are also size limits. Both territories also have no-take areas. In the U.S. Virgin Islands there has been a push for fishers to use biodegradable fish pots, which break down if they are lost in the ocean.
Consumers should not be afraid to buy fish due to overfishing concerns. Instead, familiarize yourself with closed season rules. If someone tries to sell or serve you something that should be off-limits, it has either been frozen or caught illegally. Ask.