Recently I was finishing off an assignment with Armando Jenik about the trials of catch and release in the marlin sport-fishing industry. It made my mind tick, crank and frustrate at man’s perception of looking at the surface of things and ignoring the reality of what continues below the surface. The subject, however, fascinated me, and also made me think more about the fishing industry. Days later at an alarming 4:00 a.m., I am on the way to Trellis Bay to spend the day fishing off the North Drop.

I am not a regular sport fisher. I have been a few times—once lucky with a wahoo, a second time laughing hard at a very stubborn barracuda, or rather it at me. This time, I am going with the pros. I recognize the chair, the fly bridge and the outriggers as Big Ting, a Bertram 48, coasts alongside the dock. Captain Donnell and his two guests from Mango Bay give me a wave, and the first mate Jo, complete with grin and gold teeth, gives me the wink to hop on. We are in for a wild ride. Just my style. A jump and flip flops landed, we are set to go off to the North Drop by Anegada, 40 knots full speed ahead.


Early morning coffee only lasts so long, but within 40 minutes, we are already out of sight of all land, which is fine by me and a good wake up call. It’s time to rely on wits and the elements. Captain Donnell explains the day to us all with a calm reassurance, “Once we get to the drop, which will be signified by the depth sounder going from 30 to 1000 feet, we are in big country, where all the big boys live and the wild, deep ocean is alive. That’s where we will set our lines out.” Two outriggers and rods make up for a five-line set up of 80-lb tension with lures. Two teasers are in the middle. The 80-lb line will hold anything. The guests on board want marlin. Captain Donnell explains to me very clearly, “What we never want is to fight the fish, shark or whatever we catch. There is no bravado in fighting a fish for five hours. That will wreck the fish completely. If we throw a five-hour distressed marlin back in, there is every chance it will drown or be prey to sharks. We once had a big boy fall into the props. That kind of stuff lacks the nobility of fishing. We respect our environment greatly; what we won’t eat, we put back to survive.”

Captain Donnell is a veteran of fishing and a lifelong resident of Virgin Gorda. He exchanges Jimmy Buffet for The Police on the CD player, "to get things moving," he says as he sprays each line with a beer from the complimentary bar for luck. Not that long after, we hear, “Fish on the line,” and within minutes Jo ushers one of the guests into the chair. It’s a 10-lb black fin on board after a fairly easy haul in. Our tip was the birds congregating over the tuna thrashing on the surface. Not long after that, they start to come in rapidly.

In between is a game of patience, like watching a fire, as you stare at the blue and white wake sensing fish chasing the lures. Everyone is transfixed on the stern of the boat, cruising at seven knots. “Fish on the line” is a call for action.

Before we know it, 2:00 p.m. has arrived and already a long but incredibly fun and easy day out on the water. Fish have been caught, all tuna. No marlin today, but there was a big boy runner yesterday. The captain pipes in, “The marlin congregate between June and October out here. They are lone hunters looking for bait fish throughout the Atlantic, they can be 70 or 700lbs. There are no averages, and we have had our fair share of big boys all right.” As we speed back to land, Jo and I bounce a drink. “Come back,” he says, “bring some others and we’ll go hunt and fish. What you want to catch, we can make it happen.” Shark, I whisper. I want to catch the devil that should never catch me. “Yes, that’s fishing,” says the Captain, “You never know, and the shark tastes good.” 

Commercial Fishing Licenses

A Commercial Fishing License may be defined as a license issued to local fishermen on a basis in which the fishermen catch fish to sell as a mean of surviving. This type of license is only granted to a person who can provide proof of residential status. It is unauthorized for a foreigner or foreign fishing vessel to fish commercially in the British Virgin Island waters without permission from higher authority.

Commercial fishing consist of methods such as:

Fish commonly caught may include: Trigger fish, Yellow tail, Red Hind, Doctor fish, King fish, Hard-nose, Angel fish, Parrot fish, Nassau Grouper, Shellfish etc. 

If granted by the Minister of Natural Resources & Labour (MNR&L), a Commercial Fishing License is valid for one year.     

A Sport Fishing License is a license granted to Fishermen who escort mostly tourists on a fishing expedition. This type of fishing is usually carried out by Foreign Sport Fishing Companies and local fisher-persons. The majority of persons applying for this type of fishing license are foreigners. These foreigners mostly migrate from the surrounding islands e.g. U.S Virgin Islands. 

The BVI is known for its wealthy fishing banks such as:

The method used in Game or Sport Fishing is the use of a Fishing Rod/Reel, which can be termed as TROLLING. This type of fishing yields a more prosperous catch.  During the year 2000, the USVI economy generated over 80 million dollars from conducting fishing excursions in the BVI waters.  However, when these fishes are caught during these excursions, the boats then return to St. Thomas where a market will be made available. Species commonly caught includes: Wahoo, Kingfish, Tuna, Marlin, Sailfish, Dolphin, King Mackerel, Swordfish.

It is ILLEGAL to have more than thirty pounds of fish by weight in one’s possession per boat.

If granted by the Minister of Natural Resources & Labour, a Sport Fishing License is valid for one year.      

A Recreational Fishing License is defined as a license granted to a person who catches fish on a catch-and-release basis. Visiting tourists usually conduct this type of fishing activity. Areas where this type of fishing may occur are called “FLATS.”  Flats are situated behind reefs and near mangroves with large portion of seagrass beds. The gear used to catch these fishes is called a “FLY ROD.”

Fish commonly caught may include:

It is ILLEGAL to have in one’s possession billfish such as Blue & White Marlin, Sailfish and Sword Fish. It is also ILLEGAL to have more than thirty pounds of fish by weight in one’s possession per boat.

If granted by the Minister of Natural Resources & Labour, a Pleasure/Recreational Fishing License is valid for one month.

While visiting the BVI and having any interest in fishing in the BVI, one should contact the MNR&L or the Conservation & Fisheries Department. 

In situations where persons visit the BVI for only a short period of time and are interested in fishing, a fishing permit may be granted by the Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour and this permit is valid for one month. The permit does not include catching fish for sale but catching fish for one’s personal use.

It is ILLEGAL to catch the following during closed seasons:
1st January –  31st March  –  Margate Fish (haemulon album)  
1st January – 31st March  –  Red Hind  (epinephelus guttatus)    
1st March – 31st May  –   Nassau Grouper (epinephelus striatus)   
1st April – 30th November  –  Marine Turtles  
31st July – 31st October  –  Lobsters               
15th August – 31st October  –  Queen Conch (strombus gigas)      
15th August – 31st October  –  Whelk (cittarium pica) 
It is ILLEGAL to fish in the BVI waters without a valid fishing license or permit granted by the Ministry of Natural Resources & Labour.  Any one witnessing the practice of illegal fishing activities in the BVI waters should either contact the Royal Virgin Island Police Force or the Conservation & Fisheries Department immediately.

Visitors or non-belongers wanting to fish in the territory waters do need to obtain the following Fishing Applications and Registration Forms, which can be obtained from the Conseravtion and Fisheries Department.

Application for Local Fishing Licence
Application for Pleasure Fishing Licence
Application for Registration of a Foreign Fishing Vessel
Application for Registration of a Local Fishing Vessel
Application to compete in a Sport Fishing Event
Application for a Foreign Fishing Licence – vessel less than 25'
Application for a Foreign Fishing Vessel Licence – vessel more than 25'
Certificate of Registration of a Local Fishing Vessel