Outrageous New Law Would End Most Sport Fishing in Puerto Rico

Unnecessary legislation threatens Puerto Rico’s recreational fisheries and its $100-million annual contribution to the country’s economy.

Outrageous New Law Would End Most Sport Fishing in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s outstanding recreational fishing would effectively end if legislation passed by the country’s Senate also passes in the House.Courtesy Dave Lewis

Puerto Rico is on the cusp of approving new law governing fishing in the country, and it threatens to spell the end of recreational fishing.

Senate Bill 1014, recently approved by the Puerto Rico Senate will replace current fishing law, known as Law 278, with provisions antithetical to the commonwealth’s sport fishermen and its significant recreational-fishing industry.

The legislation, if approved by the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, will offer greater latitude to the island’s 900 commercial fishermen, while severely and unreasonably restricting roughly 200,000 recreational anglers, effectively ending a sport estimated to contribute $100 million to the country annually.

The bill would:

  • Create a Fisheries Advisory Board with a super majority of eight commercial fishermen (selected from within their own ranks) and just three recreational fishermen (two marine, one freshwater, selected by government authorities). The board could reach a quorum without any recreational-fishery representation whatsoever.

  • Limit recreational anglers harvest no more than 30 pounds of fish per month. (This will eliminate valuable fishing tournaments, and could mean keeping a single tuna or dolphinfish would be breaking the law.)

  • Allow commercial fishermen to keep most of a catch when found in violation, the government confiscating only that portion of a catch deemed not in compliance.

  • Allow commercial fishermen to keep their vessels; no matter how serious an infraction, confiscated would be proscribed. The same sort of protection would not be extended to recreational anglers, whose vessels could be confiscated.

  • Allow fisheries-management measures not based in science, but requires scientific studies to classify any species as "vulnerable." (This could take years, during which time fishing could continue

  • Grant commercial fishermen a free pass by overlooking the first violation of any fishing regulation, however egregious;

  • Grant commercial fishermen another free pass for initial infringement of by-catch regulations;

  • Eliminate seasonal fisheries closures.

Senate Bill 1014 offers no justification for almost completely disregarding the growing and economically important recreational-fishing sector, nor in fact justifies the need to repeal current Fisheries Law 278 (which offers equal treatment for both sectors)

In summary, this approved senate bill (on the way to the House for voting) is highly biased towards the minority commercial fishing sector, and almost completely ignores the growing and economically important recreational fishing sector. No justification is given for the unequal treatment of the sectors, and no justification is given for repealing the current Fisheries Law 278, which treats the sectors equally, or for the repeal of Law 115, which was created to promote recreational fishing in our reservoirs. Approval of the Senate Bill and repealing these laws could result also in a loss of federal Sport Fish Restoration Funds.

Those who share our outrage can help us to fight approval of this dangerously detrimental and anti-democratic senate bill by signing a petition; also, letters of support can be emailed to pescaplayaambiente@hotmail.com or via Facebook at Pesca, Playa y Ambiente.

Outrageous New Law Would End Most Sport Fishing in Puerto Rico
Dr. Craig Lilyestrom volunteers his services to the Fishing, Beaches and Environment/Pesca, Playa y Ambiente.Courtesy Craig Lilyestrom

Dr. Craig Lilyestrom earned his B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from U. Mass at Amherst and an M.S. and (in 1989) a Ph.D. in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from LSU at Baton Rouge. He studied river fish for 11 years in Venezuela, then moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1990 where he worked in fisheries research and management for the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. Lilyestrom served as the department’s Director of Marine Resources Division from 1993 until retirement his in 2018. Lilyestrom currently volunteers his services to the Fishing, Beaches and Environment/Pesca, Playa y Ambiente a Puerto Rico-based non-profit NGO.