For those who may not know, St. Croix’s culinary scene is exploding! 2017 kicked off with an eight page spread called “Eating St. Croix” in Coastal Living magazine, and two of the island’s restaurants, balter and Savant, made the list of USA Today’s 10 Best Restaurants in the Caribbean. With a spotlight being shone on St. Croix’s food scene, and with limited local resources available on an island, restaurants are focusing now more than ever on sustainability. Enter the Reef Responsible program, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy’s Coral Conservation Manager, Kemit Amon-Lewis.
Born and raised here on the of St. Croix, Kemit has a passion for preserving the beautiful reefs and marine ecosystem of St. Croix, the Caribbean, and the world for that matter. Kemit started the Reef Responsible program back in 2014 right here on St. Croix as a collaboration between like-minded agencies including: The Nature Conservancy, NOAA’s USVI Fisheries Liaison, the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife, University of the Virgin Islands, and St. Croix Reef Jam, and was funded by The Nature Conservancy and NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. The program has been so successful on St. Croix that Kemit is now being “nudged” by the USVI Department of Tourism to expand the program to St. Thomas, St. John, and Puerto Rico.
So what does being “Reef Responsible” mean, and why is it so important? Being “Reef Responsible” comes down to using marine natural resources responsibly so that we don’t deplete or harm those natural resources. The Caribbean has historically harvested reef fishes as a major food source, but the advancement of fishing gear and other technologies has caused reefs to be over-fished. Reef fishes are extremely important to the health of coral reefs, especially the herbivorous fish, like parrotfish and tangs, because they remove algae from the reefs which provides space for corals to settle and grow. Excessive removal of these critical fish species, along with other threats, have lead to a decline in the Caribbean coral reefs and the entire marine ecosystem. The Reef Responsible program was created to help combat over-fishing and promote the health of our coral reefs. The mission of Reef Responsible is to increase the public’s understanding of how catching, purchasing, serving and consuming locally harvested seafood can positively influence the future of the USVIs’ commercial fishing and coral reefs.
Once the basic principals for the Reef Responsible program had been established, the Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative was started. The Sustainable Seafood Initiative is a voluntary program designed to help create a sustainable seafood industry in the USVI by celebrating and recognizing those restaurants that are committed to supporting local fishers, and making conscious decisions about the seafood that they purchase, prepare, and serve. Through this initiative, training is provided to local restaurant owners and chefs toward improved practices regarding the purchase of seafood to be used in their restaurants. Information on seasonal closures and size restrictions for reef fishes, lobster, whelk, and conch is also provided in an effort to improve compliance with local and federal fisheries regulations. For example, “Good Choice” fishes are open-water or pelagic species such as dolphinfish, wahoo, and tuna as well as the non-native lionfish, an invasive species currently threatening the reef fish population. The restaurants that commit to the Sustainable Seafood Initiative are promoted by Reef Responsible on the Reef Connect website, through the Reef Responsible Facebook page, and throughout the year at events such as Taste of St. Croix and Dine VI.
With sustainability coming to the forefront of the global environmental stage, Reef Responsible has plans to expand their program to to include supermarkets and fishers. Through the Sustainable Seafood Initiative, Reef Responsible continues to highlight those restaurants, and eventually will highlight those supermarkets and fishers, that make commitments to sustainable seafood practices. You can do your part by choosing to frequent the restaurants that are Reef Responsible. To learn more about the Reef Responsible program, and about participating Reef Responsible restaurants and partners, you can visit their website at: www.reefconnect.org/reef-responsible. You can also download a free Reef Responsible Calendar and Fish Fact Cards on the website so that you can make “Reefsponsible” choices, contribute to the preservation of our reefs, and “See Food Sustainably”.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
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