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Gone Fishin’: Laws You Should Know Before Casting Off

By Willa Tavernier, O’Neal Webster BVI

I’ve heard it said that saltwater fly fishing is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. I can see the allure of spending a day on the water, man (or woman) against the ocean, the excitement of the catch.  I’ve even tried fishing once or twice, more enchanted by the idea of fishing (I probably watched A River Runs Through It one too many times), than having any actual ability for the sport.

We all know that the BVI has fantastic waters—its reefs and flats flourishing with fish—and destinations like Virgin Gorda’s South Drop and Anegada’s North Drop are becoming renowned for their teeming fish populations.

Fishing excursions in BVI waters are increasingly popular among visitors, particularly visitors to the United States Virgin Islands.  According to the Department of Conservation and Fisheries, during the year 2000, the USVI economy generated over 80 million dollars from conducting fishing excursions in the BVI waters. The industry made the agenda for the 2012 BVI-USVI Friendship Day meetings, unfortunately because of visitors exceeding the allowable catch limits. It’s therefore useful for visitors and anyone in the industry to understand the rules for sport and pleasure fishing in the BVI.

Immigration and other applicable requirements

 Vessels must check in at one of the ports of entry for private boats in Road Town or Soper’s Hole on Tortola, or Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, to be cleared by BVI Immigration and Customs.  The captain and first mate are required to disembark, and they can clear the crew and all passengers, but each person must have a passport, or in the case of US or Canadian citizens, a birth certificate with a photo ID, and for other countries that require them, the appropriate visas.

One important additional requirement to normal immigration clearances is that for entry on these non-commercial carriers, all those who are not US or Canadian citizens must obtain a visitor’s visa, even if your country is not otherwise subject to visa requirements for its citizens entering the BVI on normal commercial vessels.  Immigration and/or Customs officers each have the right to board the vessel and conduct a search to ensure no undeclared or contraband items are present.


In addition foreign fishing vessels are required to give at least 24 hours notice to the Chief Conservation and Fisheries officer of the vessel’s entry into BVI waters. The Department of Conservation and Fisheries also employs marine patrols to monitor fishing priority areas and fisheries protected areas.  Any authorized officer (at present any fisheries officer, customs officer or police officer) may board fishing vessels and remain on board as an observer with full access to all equipment, records, documents and any fish on board.  The authorized officer may make tests, observations and records and take and remove such samples as he reasonably requires to monitor the vessel’s activities.  The master of the vessel may be required to proceed to any port or place as the Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer may reasonably require to allow an observer to board or disembark from the vessel.  Interestingly, captains are required by law to provide without charge food and accommodation for an authorized officer, equivalent to that provided for officers of the vessel.

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