I confess to having a special place in my fishing heart (an appendage to my regular heart) for Puerto Rico, first after enjoying some of the best inshore tarpon fishing anywhere in it’s “urban back-country” lagoons. Secondly, I have marveled at the commitment and energy of many of its citizens working to clean up those very lagoons on an ongoing, annual basis; they’ve pulled out many, many tons of trash, and are striving, along with assistance from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, to get the territory’s government to address water-quality issues.
The bottom line is that Puerto Rico has a wealth of outstanding backcountry/estuarine and flats fishing. Protecting its resources will serve not only the territory and its health, but will also help enhance and ensure the huge economic potential from tourism, certainly including recreational fishing in a big way.
Toward that end, a group of Puerto Rican angling enthusiasts tells me that the use of illegal gill nets in inshore waters is reaching epidemic levels.
“Gill nets are all over the island,” says local angler and conservationist Ramon Ortiz. “They’re forbidden in interior waters, but there’s little to no enforcement.”
What are the gill netters after? Pretty much any fish that swims, says Ortiz. And that’s what their gill nets are taking, including tarpon, bonefish and other game fish — as well as sea turtles, birds and, as shown here, manatees.
He points out that only licensed commercial fishermen can legally sell fish in PR and use gill nets, and even then only in ocean waters (far from river mouths).
“But since there’s no enforcement, the number of poachers using gill nets and selling fish on the streets and to restaurants is growing.”
Ortiz says concerned anglers/conservationists like him are putting together a campaign to convince the territory’s governor to act to stop this threat to PR’s waters, marine-fish stocks and recreational fisheries.
Any angler who recalls the ultimately successful struggle to remove gill nets from Florida’s waters in 1994 knows well the great damage such nets do and how dramatically the absence of such nets allows inshore fishes to revive and thrive.
Their cause is vital and urgent, and the organizers of this campaign need — and deserve — help. Anyone who can spare a few minutes to fire off a quick email letting Puerto Rico’s governor know how harmful gill netting is and how it puts the territory’s marine life and recreational fisheries at great risk, should do it.
Send an email to Ortiz at [email protected], but address your comments to The Hon. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, Governor. Ortiz will print out emails and deliver them to Padilla; if numbers of us help make that stack tall enough to represent the outrage over what’s happening to Puerto Rico’s inshore and estuarine waters, it could make a world of difference.