Stay out of our waters.
That is the message British Virgin Islands authorities made loud and clear to St. John commercial fisherman Adin Kauffman, when he was jailed and slapped with a $30,000 fine for passing through their waters.
Kauffman, who has run a local sport fishing business for 25 years, was recently on a charter heading out of Johnson Bay toward the popular south drop trolling destination. He steered El Dorado out to Flanagan Island and west of Norman Island, on the edge of BVI waters.
Machine Gun Assault Rifle
“Since I was west of Norman I didn’t think they would bother me but as I was running to the south my guest says ‘what’s that,’” said Kauffman. “There was this 50-foot boat bearing down on me and I started heading down-seas to get the trolling lines in. They put their sirens on and came up with a machine gun assault rifle.”
“I stopped the boat but it’s really rough out there and there were really big seas,” the fisherman continued.
“They started backing up to me and if they hit me it would have destroyed my boat. So I told them I was going up to Norman where I would anchor.”
The BVI officials apparently weren’t pleased with Kauffman’s decision to anchor off Norman.
“We Finally Got You”
“I got up to Norman and they boarded me and said ‘we finally got you,’” Kauffman told St. John Tradewinds.
“They said they were wanting me big time and finally got me.”
Kauffman and his guest were taken to Tortola where the guest was released but the fisherman and his boat were not.
“Finally they said I could call my wife and ask her to bring over my passport to the West End and I would be released,” said Kauffman. “In the meantime, however, they changed their minds and decided they wouldn’t release me. They took me to the police station and booked me and all that.”
Good To Know Belonger
BVI police officials asked Kauffman if he knew any “belongers,” a local immigration status which confers certain important rights, like the right to vote, to hold elected office in the Legislative Council, to own real property without the necessity for a license, etc. And it’s a good thing the St. John fisherman did.
“I know a belonger through our church group and she works fairly high up in government,” said Kauffman. “She came and signed for me or I would have stayed in jail that night.”
Kauffman was taken into custody on a Monday and was scheduled to go before a magistrate on Wednesday. If he had not known a belonger to sign for him, the fisherman would have spent two nights in jail before his hearing.
Charged with Three Counts
The St. John charter captain was charged with fishing in territorial waters with an unlicensed and unregistered foreign vessel, failure to heave-to and fishing with six rods before Magistrate Valerie Stevens.
“You always have extra rods around in case you need them, I wasn’t using them all,” said Kauffman. “I pled guilty to the first charge but not guilty to the second two.”
After a court recess, Kauffman pled his case before BVI Magistrate Stevens.
“I went back in and basically explained about the high seas and why I couldn’t stop immediately,” said the fisherman. “The judge dropped the charge about the rods and stopping the vessel. I told the judge that I realized I was wrong but I was just on the edge of their waters and was just passing through.”
Kauffman tried to convince the judge to be lenient, he explained.
“I told the judge that I have operated my own boats in these waters for over 25 years,” said Kauffman. “I built my boat myself and I am not a big operation and am certainly not rich. I asked for mercy.”
“I asked for permission to return to my family and my medications which I had been away from for three days,” the fisherman added.
Mercy, however, was not on the magistrate’s agenda that day as Kauffman was issued a $30,000 fine.
“The judge asked me if I knew what the maximum fine for the charge was and she said it was $500,000,”
said Kauffman. “She said she’d fine me $30,000 and furthermore would put me straight back in jail until it was paid.”Kauffman said he was thrown in jail with a man who was facing murder charges where he spent the night before his wife was able to travel to Tortola with the funds to cover the stiff fine.
While Kauffman admits he should not have been in BVI waters, he contends he was only passing through which is difficult to avoid when leaving Coral Bay and the court-imposed $30,000 fine was excessive.
Although there is nothing to be done about Kauffman’s case, the incident highlights ongoing problems with the U.S.V.I.’s neighbor, according to V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Olsen.
“The BVI is very inconsistent on how it applies its regulations and it’s difficult to even give someone a recommendation on how to deal with them,” said Olsen. “They have clear rules which are that any boat fishing in its waters needs to have a proper license and check in and everything. I’m hoping that we will be reciprocating in kind.”
“BVI residents come into Red Hook and go shopping all the time,” Olsen continued. “They have fishermen coming in and selling fish on the waterfront and our law clearly says you can’t sell fish unless it’s caught in USVI waters.”
USVI regulations regarding fish seasons and closures are not followed by BVI fishermen, Olsen explained.
“Additionally, there are certain species that are legal to catch in the BVI, but just the possession of them here are federal violations,” said Olsen. “I’m hoping that we’ll start enforcing these regulations — enforcement needs serious investment. It’s my understanding that the enforcement budget has gone down while the demand has gone up.”
A treaty between the U.S. and the United Kingdom and Ireland that protected traditional fishing practices by both countries was terminated in 2005.
“Even under the treaty BVI officials confiscated boats and fined fishermen which was clearly illegal,” said Olsen. “They opted out of the treaty in 2005.”
USVI and BVI relations need serious improvement, Olsen added.
“My sympathy is completely with Mr. Kauffman,” Olsen said. “We have a BVI Friendship day, but it is only words when it comes to our fishermen.”