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Data Series 642

Data from in situ Observations of Fish Traps Set by Fishermen in St. John Waters, U.S. Virgin Islands, 1992-94

Virginia H. Garrison1, Jim Beets2, Alan M. Friedlander3, and Steven Canty4

1 U.S. Geological Survey, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
2 University of Hawaii, Hilo, HI 96720
3 University of Hawaii and U.S. Geological Survey, Honolulu, HI 96813
4 Centro de Ecologia Marina, Tegucigalpa MDC, Honduras

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Southeast Ecological Science Center

Publications are available from USGS Information Services, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0046 (telephone 1-888-ASK-USGS; email:

Page Contents:

Information Statement
Project Description
Limitations on Use
References Cited
Suggested Citation
Acronyms and Abbreviations
Metadata File
Data File

Information Statement

This dataset publication was prepared by an agency of the United States Government. Although these data have been processed successfully on a computer system at the U.S. Geological Survey, no warranty expressed or implied is made regarding the display or utility of the data on any other system, nor shall the act of distribution imply any such warranty. The U.S. Geological Survey shall not be held liable for improper or incorrect use of the data described and (or) contained herein. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Project Description

Fishing is allowed in the marine waters of Virgin Island National Park (VINP; St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands [USVI]). Specifically, the park enabling legislation allows for “customary” uses of park waters for fishing, including use of traps of “conventional” USVI design. The most commonly used gears in the park are traps, and hook and line (Randall, 1961). Commercial fishing, spearfishing, gill netting, and placement of traps within Trunk Bay are not allowed, and mesh size and cast net dimensions are regulated (Code of Federal Regulations). Territorial fishing regulations apply concurrently with Federal regulations in park waters (for example, fish trap permits, operational biodegradable panel, minimum mesh size, and buoy colors). Since the early 1960s, reports have consistently documented declines in the abundance and size of many fish species in the USVI (for example, Randall 1961; Dammann, 1969; Olsen and Laplace, 1978). Information on the fishery within park waters was scarce and trap fishers were not forthcoming with information on catch, trap type, and construction, or habitat and locations fished. As a result, prior to this study, no reliable data existed on the species, lengths, and numbers of fishes trapped in and removed from the park. In order to estimate (1) the trapping pressure within park waters, (2) the effect of fish traps on park marine resources (both fish and habitats), and (3) the effectiveness of park regulations in protecting marine resources, traps set by fishers were visually observed in situ in 1992, 1993, and 1994, around St. John, within and outside of park waters.

Limitations on Use

Any use of this dataset should acknowledge the U.S. Geological Survey as originator.



Figure 1. Approximate location of traps censused around St. John by year. (from Garrison and others, 2004). - click to enlarge
Figure 1. Approximate location of traps censused around St. John by year. (from Garrison and others, 2004). - click to enlarge

All buoyed fish traps within 2 kilometers (km) of the island of St. John and within the boundaries of the U.S. Virgin Islands (fig.1; Garrison and others, 2004) were visually observed in situ using scuba gear (fig. 2). Observations were made over seven consecutive days in November 1992, July 1993, and August 1994. The extent of the censused shelf area south of the island was constrained by weather and safe scuba diving depths. Five habitat types were identified in the area where traps were set around St. John: scleractinian coral reef, gorgonian hard-bottom, algal plain, sea grass beds, and nonliving substrate (sand, rock, and so forth). A description of these habitats is provided in Garrison and others (1998, 2004).


The following information was recorded for censused traps: location, depth, substrate/habitat upon which the trap rested, trap type (Antillean chevron, rectangular, or square), materials from which the trap was constructed (sticks, lumber, rebar), mesh type (hexagonal, square, rectangular), minimum mesh diameter (in centimeters), number of traps connected in a "string", number of buoys, buoy colors, presence/absence of a functional biodegradable panel (required by USVI regulations), presence of anodes, in or out of park waters, the species and estimated fork length (in centimeters) of each individual fish in a trap, and presence of dead fish. Trap dimensions (in centimeters) and bait types used, if any, were recorded in July 1993 and August 1994. Two points deserve emphasis: (1) the content of traps when hauled most likely differed from the census data, and (2) the amount of time the trap had been in place (soak time) was unknown.
Figure 2. Diver censusing fish trap set on reef. - click to enlarge
Figure 2. Diver censusing fish trap set on reef. - click to enlarge
Consequently, catch-per-unit-effort could not be calculated. Historically, the average trap soak time used in the USVI has been reported to be 3-4 and 7-8 days (Dammann, 1969; Olsen and others, 1978; Wolff and others, 1999). Based on (1994) regarding the trapping schedules followed by many of the fishers, censused traps were thought to have been set for periods of 1 to 8 days. On several occasions during the field observations, traps were seen being hauled within an hour of being censused.

Calamus bajonado, C. calamus, C. penna and C. pennatula were classified as Calamus spp. due to difficulties in differentiating individual species in crowded traps. Individual weights were estimated using the Biomass Index from Bohnsack and Harper (1988; unpub. data, 1994). Garrison and others (1998) provide details on calculating the estimated weight of individual fish. Species were assigned to one of the following feeding groups based on Randall (1963, 1967, 1968) and field observations: herbivores, omnivores, sessile invertebrate feeders, mobile invertebrate feeder, mobile invertebrate feeders/piscivores, and piscivores. Species were considered mobile invertebrate feeders/piscivores if both prey groups contributed substantially to the diet.

A total of 1,340 individuals (56 species and 23 families) were identified and their lengths estimated for the 211 of 285 visually censused traps that contained fish (Garrison and others, 1998). Complete data exist for 285 of the 295 traps censused (1992, 52 traps; 1993, 148 traps; and 1994, 95 traps). Missing data are represented as “-99” in the provided dataset.

Garrison and others (1998, 2004) provide results, analyses, and interpretation of the dataset included in this report.

References Cited

Bohnsack, J.A., and Harper, D.E., 1988, Length-weight relationships of selected marine reef fishes from the southeastern United States and the Caribbean: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Technical Memorandum, NMFS-SEFC-215 Miami, 31 p., accessed September 2011 at

Code of Federal Regulations Title 36, Section 7.74., U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Dammann, A.E., 1969, Special Report, the Study of the Fisheries potential of the Virgin Islands: Virgin Islands Ecological Research Station Contribution 1, 197 p.

Garrison, V.H., Rogers, C.S., and Beets, J., 1998, Of reef fishes, overfishing and in situ observations of fish traps in St. John, USVI: Revista Biologia Tropical, v. 46, Supplement 5, p. 41-59.

Garrison, V.H., Rogers, C.S., Beets, J., and Friedlander, A.M., 2004, The habitats exploited and the species trapped in a Caribbean island fishery: Environmental Biology of Fishes, v. 71, p. 247-260.

Olsen, D.A., Dammann, A.E., LaPlace, J.A., 1978, Mesh selectivity of West Indian fish traps: Marine Fishery Review, v. 40, p. 15-16.

Olsen, D.A., and LaPlace, J.A., 1978, A study of a Virgin Islands grouper fishery based on a breeding aggregation: Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, v. 31, p. 130-144.

Randall, J.E., 1961, Tagging reef fishes in the Virgin Islands: Proceedings of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, v. 14, p. 201-241.

Randall, J.E., 1963, An analysis of the fish populations of artificial and natural reefs in the Virgin Islands: Caribbean Journal of Science, v. 3, p. 31-47.

Randall, J.E., 1967, Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies: Studies in Tropical Oceanography, v. 5, p. 665-847.

Randall, J.E., 1968, Caribbean reef fishes: Hong Kong, T.F.H. Publications, 319 p.

Wolff, N.M., Grober-Dunsmore, R., Rogers, C.S., and Beets, J., 1999, A comparison of fish trap catch rates in coral reef and octocoral habitats: Environmental Biology of Fishes, v. 55, p. 81-90.


This study was funded by a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service. Special thanks to Caroline Rogers for securing funding for the project and for many hours of discussion, to Giglia Beretta and Caroline Koenings who assisted in the pioneer dives on traps, spending many hours on and in the water, and to John Garrison, Rikki Grober-Dunsmore, Joe Kimmel, Ellen Link and Nick Wolff, for assisting with censusing traps. Special thanks to Ruth Gomez for generously sharing her wealth of knowledge regarding the USVI fishery.

Suggested citation:

Garrison, V.H., Beets, J., Friedlander, A.M., and Canty, S., 2011, Data from in situ Observations of Fish Traps Set by Fishermen in St. John Waters, U.S. Virgin Islands, 1992-94: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 642, []

Acronyms and Abbreviations

cm centimeter
km kilometer
scuba self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
spp species
USVI U.S. Virgin Islands
VINP Virgin Islands National Park

Metadata File


Data File


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For additional information:

Virginia H. Garrison, St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
600 4th Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 803-8747

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