Is the Virgin Islands ready for a world-class fishing tournament? Is it ready for game fishing as a sport and tourist attraction? After decades of watching the neighbouring United States VI take all the fish, the credit, the fame and the money for a resource that is based in this territory’s waters, the tide is starting to turn.
The VI is ready now to be recognised as the best game fishing location in the world.
There are many reasons why a growing sportfishing industry is a good idea here.
Firstly, there is national pride. This territory’s waters are the best fishing grounds in the world, and the most prized fish, the Atlantic blue marlin, is plentiful here. For years, this abundance was exploited by sportfishers from the USVI. Through controversial but visionary government action over recent years, the boats from St. Thomas came to learn that they could no longer fish without permission in waters that belong to this territory. This led to a decline in the St. Thomas fishing industry, and now is the time for this territory’s boats to capitalise on the situation.
This is an excellent example of government enforcement leading to business opportunities for local entrepreneurs, and it should be continued.
Secondly, sportfishing can be a big part of the “third pillar” of the VI economy. Recreational fishing is one of the most popular sports in the world, and billions of dollars are spent on it every year. In St. Thomas, it is estimated that sportfishing brought $80 million per year into the economy in the peak years.
There is no reason why this sport can’t contribute in a similar way to our economy now. There are several local captains who specialise in sportfishing, and many of the water taxis and other craft can organise a fishing trip on board with a little advance notice. All this activity creates income and opportunity, and expands the choice of activities for tourists. The sport, and the businesses around it, can support entrepreneurs in this territory as they continue to expand their reach into aspects of business that were for years dominated by operators in the USVI.
Third, when sportfishers come to our shores, they do more than just fish. They eat out, go on tours, stay in hotels and villas, and contribute to all aspects of the economy. When there are tournaments and other events, the news and coverage travels around the world and highlights the beauty and culture of the VI for all.
Anyone in the tourism promotion business will agree that events with media coverage are the most effective way to promote a destination. Actions speak louder than words. There is nothing better than an event or tournament to show commitment to an idea. The Anegada Lobster Festival is an excellent example.
As a part of the new approach to sportfishing in the VI, it is important to understand the perspective of visiting fishers. To attract them, the territory should focus on a friendly welcome; simplified but effective licensing; and clear rules to help everyone understand that effective enforcement in the past is what has led to this wonderful opportunity in the present. Also crucial is emphasising respect in all aspects of the sport; enforcing bag limits and other restrictions; and encouraging the business community to get involved in expanding this underdeveloped aspect of a mature tourism and sport industry.
The time is right in 2024 to take a fresh look at sportfishing with an eye toward expanding the sport in a way that respects the culture, conserves the resource, and highlights the beauty and abundance of the VI for the benefit of all.