Longer grouper ban needed

| 24/03/2011

(CNS): Fishermen on Cayman Brac are finding it hard to believe that the nine year ban on catching Nassau grouper at the spawning holes during spawning season has not resulted in a significant increase in groupers, but as Department of Environment staff explained to them at a meeting Monday night, replenishment of grouper populations is a slow process and an extended ban is necessary to ensure that the last viable spawning aggregation (SPAG) site in the Cayman Islands – in the West End of Little Cayman – does not collapse. The fishermen, on the other hand, say they have done their part to preserve the grouper population by observing the ban for nine years and are asking the decision makers to remove it and reintroduce catch limits.

Research at the Little Cayman grouper hole has shown that the groupers which gather together in great numbers to spawn live around that island – there are no great migrations of grouper from elsewhere for spawning. Scientists have also found that the larvae released are brought back by the current, and so repopulates the same island. We cannot, therefore, rely on SPAGs in other countries on the region to restock our grouper population, and they don’t have much stock left in any case, DoE’s Research Manager Phil Bush noted.

The grouper holes were first closed in 2003 in what was planned to be alternate years of being open for fishing. However, Bush told people packed into the conference room at the District Administration Building, it was determined that it was “mathematically impossible for the population to replenish itself if the large numbers of fish, especially the big spawners, were taken out.”

The Marine Conservation Board therefore imposed an eight year ban on all grouper spawning sites to give the Nassau grouper a chance to recover, which ends this year. However, the numbers of spawning groupers have grown only by about 500 fish. The average size is dropping and they are seeing more of the younger “teenage” fish, though there are still the larger fish, who, scientists have found, are needed to guide the younger fish to the SPAG.

Line fishing of grouper outside the spawning sites is allowed and Bush said that 20% of the tagged groupers had been lost outside the area, and they estimate that roughly this proportion of the total population is being fished this way.

Speaking for the fishermen, with whom he had had a meeting a few nights earlier, former MLA Lyndon Martin said they had agreed to a nine year ban in part because they had understood that this would result in the replenishment required. With no evidence that this has happened, Martin asked why this was so and wondered if loss of habitat was a factor rather than just the fishing. Martin also questioned whether the researchers counted the fish at both spawnings per season, and thought maybe they had missed some.

The recruitment of new fish is very low, Bush explained, and very very few of them survive – a fact that has been demonstrated by scientists all over the Caribbean. His colleague, Bradley Johnson, explained that though there are two spawnings after the full moon in January and February, if there is an early full moon in January, then the major spawning is in February, but if it’s a late moon in January then that is the major spawning month. If the full moon is in the middle of the month, there is a split spawn.

Nevertheless, Martin produced a letter (which now has 59 signatures, including Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor Connolly, who was among those who signed at the meeting) that had been drafted by the fishermen, addressed to the members of the Legislative Assembly, the Department of Environment and the Marine Conservation Board, saying they “strongly oppose any further extension of the prohibition on fishing in the designated grouper spawning areas” but that they supported a catch limit of 12 groupers per boat per day.

If 15 boats caught 12 groupers per day for nine days, that would amount to 1,620 fish – a figure that is unsustainable, Johnson said. While the fishermen argued that this was the maximum and the actual figure would be far less, the researchers noted that a rule of thumb for sustainable loss of a species is 20% – and this was already being taken by line fishing.

“The board could open it up but then you might well lose the aggregations forever,” Bush said, but the fishermen did not believe him.

The Grouper Moon Project

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Comments (36)

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  1. Young Bracker says:

    When will the next meeting be held?

  2. Young Bracker says:

     As much as I would loooooove to fish in the grouper hole i want it to stay closed because this is the last grouper hole and if you read all of the comments you would have gathered enough information to realize that it would not be rationale to open the grouper hole. Fisherman here WILL take advantage of it and fish out the grouper. I remember my uncle telling me of so much grouper and so big that he couldn’t see the bottom but the fishermen abused and caught more than enough. Leave it closed, people have gone by eight years without fishing there and they can continue! Unfortuantely i won’t be able to fish there bt its a sacrifice for keeping what we have left preserved.

    • Jonathan says:

      Young Bracker, it is with people like yourself that our trio of islands has a future and I am very proud of you. The stories of yesterday of times when fishermen would open the bellies of grouper roiling the surface only for the roe shows the difference between then and now. There is a lack of wisdom in harvesting fish in the act of spawning. It may be easier but it is ultimately destructive. We fishermen of today should learn from the mistakes of history, some of which was by ignorance and some from indifference. I have an abundance of respect and admiration for fishermen the world over but we are stewards of the resource and as such we are responsible for that which we leave for our children and our children’s children. Habitat destruction and degredation, weakened stocks of forage species, loss of estuaries in particular and myriad other factors combine to make the equation of today. Many of us are not responsible for the situation of today and many of the previous generations did not act out of greed persay, the knowledge simply was not within the realm of consciousness. We all know better now and it is our collective responsibility as fishermen and people of the seas to do what is right for tommorow. Groupers are slow growing and patience is necessary to allow a semblance of the historical abundance of yesterday to return. We all have a need for healthy and sustainable fisheries/ecosystems and it is up to us to bite the bullet today for the good of tommorow for not only ourselves but also those who are yet to be born. If we do not learn from history we are destined to repeat it. Ignorance is no longer bliss as we are no longer ignorant to the facts of the matter.

  3. 6/16 says:

    I was discussing this breifly with a diver friend today. She too agrees that it should be done ina sensible manner. I am for lifting the ban-hence my name being on the letter. I am not however for the stated amount, as I see this as a fairly large amount being taken from the residents of groupers especially during the very important spawning period.

    I am fairly comfortable to believe that the fishermen and DOE can come to some common ground in agreeing on a reasonable amount of fish to be taken in a reasonable amount of time. Example may be 12 groupers per season per boat/fisherman (whichever is less) and for a short season. Someone mentioned before the imprtance of closing the season early. I believe having a short season is also important.

    My take on it is very simple; I’ll catch the fish for me and my extended family to eat and enjoy. But this will happen just a few times before it is gone. However, divers will visit, name, bond and re-visit with a friendly grouper. This is really what brings money to the islands. When divers enjoy the visit and company so much that they have to return.

    Hence, limit the catch and release any and all tagged fish. This of course will mean having to tag all the friendly groupers in Bloddy Bay etc. But heck, spend the time and stop the arguments.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. UDP Supporter says:

    The Brac fishermen are good people and need to earn a living. I think their suggestion is very reasonable and better than no protection at all, especially as it is well known that it is mainly irresponsible foreign fishermen who take too many fish each year. Let our Caymanian fishermen fish and support themselves. The fish will always be there!

    • Anonymous says:

      They have not "earned a living" from the groupers in 8 years and they do not need to now.  Opening the grouper holes to fishing would earn a few people a small amount of money for a very short time.  The fish will not "always be there".  Why is it that some people just don’t learn from past mistakes?  Fishermen and we that eat their catch have fished out at least 5 other grouper holes in Cayman alone. 

      The fishing ban on the grouper holes must become permanent.  It is also the cheapest option for the government to enforce.  The Government cannot monitor the grouper holes for fishermen to ensure they catch only 3 fish or 5 fish or 12 fish.  The opportunity for abuse is too great and the chance that the populations would collapse is too great.  We got lucky with the Little Cayman west end hole.  Make no mistake.  The fishermen would have you believe that it is their good stewardship that we have that left…not true.  and then in two short fishing seasons (2001 and 2002) 15 boats caught 2000 fish.

      • Animaliberator says:

        I was told a few years ago that in the 70’s, supposedly there were about 40 Grouper holes in our waters, give or take one or two so I would say. This really does not take a scientist to figure out what happened as we now apparently have only 1 left that we know of. At the time of the initial ban we were supposed to have 4, again, so I was told at the time by officials but hence the requirement for this ban, regardless and must continue to stay in place probably for a long period of time and not be subject to a term limit.

    • Anonymous says:

       "as it is well known that it is mainly irresponsible foreign fishermen who take too many fish each year."

      The Grouper hole was closed because of one particular Brac fisherman who was named in an article that was written about the Grouper hole closing.  Everyone knows who it is.  The situation was abused by Caymanians even boats from Grand Cayman was there.  We are responsible for this not foreigners.

  5. Anonymous says:

    My family, though not residents, have been spending money on Brac and, to a lesser extent, Grand and Little Cayman, for several decades. We find Brac to be idyllic and relish the time we spend there. We spend a lot of money between home rentals, the tourism tax, purchases at Fosters and other stores, rental cars, airport fees, local gas stations, Reef Divers for scuba, and local restaurants. But make no mistake: the unparalleled scuba diving is what has been bringing us to Brac time after time. Continue to overfish and decimate these marine populations and you will so visitors like us and many of our fellow Cayman-loving friends take their considerable money to destinations like Bonaire, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and further distant locations. It will be a shame because we’ve grown to love our friends on Brac- more than one of whom I see has signed that Grouper Ban petition letter. I understand that making a living is a necessity and that there may be some resentment over visitors to your home island opining about how you govern yourselves. You’re free to do as you please- Brac tenacity and self-reliance has no peer anywhere in the world. It is something we would greatly miss seeing. But if you continue on an unsustainable path of removing elements of the ocean pyramid, you will see the Grouper go, then other fishes, larger predators (shark populations world-wide are already down 90%). Put yourselves before the beautiful resources you’ve been given and you will no longer have the appeal of a beautiful place to live and visit. To see what this looks like at the extreme, look at the marine and land ecologies of Haiti. The conditions of the reef ecologies are Jamaica are the next step for Cayman if a prudent, responsible, and moral balance is not struck now. Ending the Nassau ban is a step in the wrong direction.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Folks,

    Face it, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This goes for both side of the argument.

    For the conservationists: poachers are going to work on methods to get whatever they can. This obviously will endanger the DOE reps on the water or shores. BAD IDEA!

    For the fishermen: If you over fish-even a large number like 12 per day will cause a bigger issue than before and completly wipe out the groupers. BAD IDEA.

    proposal: Give a small number of groupers per fishermen per year. Say 5 groupers per fisherman per year. Open the fishing zone early “grouper season” and close it- say within 5 days. That’s it. Open the SPAG in early season and let it be open for a short period.

    Reasoning behind it is:
    1) Fishermen will catch
    2) It is a bad time to over fish-before the groupers lay their eggs.

    • Anonymous says:

      You must understand that the fishermen want their hands on the west end of Little Cayman grouper hole.  It would be the easiest one to harvest fish from as there are many left.  Most of the fishermen we are talking about live in the Brac.  The DOE have tried to "negotiate" in the past with the fishermen, but they have said that it’s not worth their while to head out to the grouper hole for just 3 fish.  And with the greedy politicians on their side, the grouper could lose.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Like it or not everyone now must realize that Grouper fishing in and around spawning sites during spawning season can never again be allowed.

    The reason for this is the fact that it would only take 1 or 2 irresponsible fisherman to again almost wipe out the entire grouper population.

    This has already happened 2 years in a row and it is completely irresponsible for the entire country to not protect these valuable members of our marine environment.

    Before the Brackers think they are being picked upon they can realize that the grouper spawning sites have already been wiped out around Grand Cayman to the shame of those fishermen involved.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The so called fishermen who have signed the letter do not make a living fishing – they are sports fishermen. Most of them are current civil servants or retired civil servants who go fishing like everyone else in the Brac – there is no need to open up the grouper fishing not one single person who signed the letter need to go fishing for grouper as a matter of fact some have signed the letter and do not even fish.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Deputy Premier supports removal of the ban on fishing the very slow growing Nassau Grouper at its last remaining Cayman spawning site when it gathers on a full moon at a very specific location known to everyone, just twice a year? Did I read that right? Is this for real? MLA’s are elected to represent the national best interests above all else, surely?

    This is seriously scary. What message does this send to the multi million dollar international dive tourism industry?

    I know one thing now – the Nat Conservation Law will never, ever come in under the present Premier & Deputy. An utter tragedy.

  10. Just the facts. says:

    It is so wrong that the political leaders of Cayman Brac would try and short-circuit and undermine the scientific work of the DOE, in order to seek votes. This should be way beyond politics. This is an opportunity for the Cayman Islands, the owners, of some of the finest reefs in the world, to show that they are leaders in prudent management of their marine resources.

    But what happens instead? The fisherman get impatient, and are prepared to risk destroying, the whole scientific exercise of the last nine years. The politicians should not be second guessing the scientists, but giving them their fullest support. These are dedicated people, acting in the best interests of Cayman, which I know is a hard concept to swallow these days.The fishermen want to consume their seed-corn, and there can only be one response: IF the scientific findings support a continued ban, then that is how it must remain.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Cayman Brac grouper fishermen have taken a page from Marldinejad’s North Sound Recovery textbook. If it’s not recovering, destroy it completely.

  12. ONE OF THE UNDER SIGNED says:

    While I am one of the under signed individuals listed on the letter, I am not fully in support of the specifics of the letter.

    My position, though not shared with the majority of the under signed, is a little more conservative-pun intended.

    I personally believe:
    1) Open Grouper holes
    2) Set Catch Limit to 12 per crew per season.
    – A CREW ARE 2 or MORE in ONE BOAT. THEY MUST FISH TOGETHER FOR THE SEASON. No exceptions.
    3) Issue a seasonal/annual license for the crew.
    4) DOE does inspection-and must be present at ports where boats return. Also, DOE should have presence on the water in close proximity to fishing grounds.
    5) The season should be opened and closed per Radio (treated like a tournament) etc.
    6) A season should be for a pre-determined period of time-let’s say 10 days. Before and After the set dates the grounds will remain closed. No fishing permitted

    The math is easy:
    30 Crews/boats x 12 groupers= 360 groupers per season.

    DOE Math said (per Fishermen proposal letter ):
    12 groupers x 15 boats x 9 days=1,620 (Heck even I and many others think this is too much)

    All the fishermen that signed the letter are really not “idiots” by any means. All they are asking for is an opportunity to catch some fish- with limits. This is a grand step whn compared to our “heritage”.

    I agree that there were individuals that flooded the market some years back and almost completely wiped out the fishing grounds. However, now that the fishermen have been educated on the “slow recruitment” of groupers, I feel confident that compliance can be expected. Nonetheless a hefty fine should be set for those who wish to defy the law and the effort on both side of the debate here.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Anonymous says:

      I completely disagree and believe the described system is both unworkable and opens the door to poachers who are waiting to have an excuse to violate the groupers again.

      What to these people need to actually understand that this location at this time of the year is simply off limits.

      Simply fish somewhere else for some other fish. What is the big deal?

      • Anonymous says:

        Look it’s simple whether you agree or not. People will take groupers. It’s easier to give the fishermen a small amount legally than for poachers to take as they please – how and when they please.

        If those who disapprove of the opening of the season would consider all concerned here, I am sure a resolve can be made. It is down right stupid to believe that you are holding to a position because of ego and not because of really what’s in thebest interest of all.

        While my good friend above likes the tournament method, I like the option as below:
        3 groupers per year per fisherman. On average 300 MAX. will be taken. The BS that people will travel from GC to CYB or LCM for 3 fish is down right stupid.

        It is time for the ban to be lifted, but with some measure of sense and conservation guiding the rules/regulations.

        • Anonymous says:

          to 07:09,

          Are you one of those "fishermen" will take spawning groupers regardless of what is good for everyone?

          I liken a fisherman who fishes for grouper in a spawning situation with someone who calls themselves a hunter and shoots a cow in a barn yard.

          Given the circumstances there really isn’t much sport involved. The rest of the year in other areas you can fish for grouper but like the hunter you prefer the barnyard method when the grouper are in spawning and will bite on anything.

           

  13. Anonymous says:

    Brac Booby- Preservation of a species is the furthest from trivial one could get … I doubt anyone will be lining up for a piece of grouper when there is none left
    Do us Bracas a favor and educate yourself on an issue prior to throwing your nonsensical comments out there for all to see and judge.
    The extension of the ban is a scientifically proven necessity due to the over fishing of days gone by
    What is sad is that there should be no need for such a law we as the people of Cayman should know when enough is enough and strive as a unified people protect and preserve our ecosystems without someone having to step in and say hey now, time to lay off the Groupers Turtles Lobsters conch etc. I would like my kids and grandkids to know what those things taste like and can look beyond my big toe to the future and see that going without right now is the best option to guarantee its availability in the future …. Just saying

  14. Brac Booby says:

    Well i just looked at that list and everybody there is from DP’s district or the western part of the island. Thank you jesus my father’s name is not on the list and he is an everyday fisherman. But guess what, the same people that downgrading these Cayman Brac fisherman, will be the same ones by the shore when they come in trying buy lil piece a grouper for their family. I just wish that every single caymanian would stop the complaining bout stupid little issues (including unny brackers).

    God Bless the CI’s

  15. Anonymous says:

    Our groupers seem to be one of the few "trainable" indigenous predators to the invasive Lionfish species.  If we can give the Grouper a chance to reach sexual maturity, we might have some hope towards protecting our future reef ecosystems, which extends to Snapper populations, Grunts and other key marine species.     

  16. Anonymous says:

    You just have to look our other grouper holes and at the rest of the Caribbean to see that fishing spawning aggregations is not a sustainable venture.  Every known Nassau grouper spawning aggregation in the world has been fished to near extinction or complete extinction.  It is but for the grace of God that the hole off the west end of Little Cayman was not discovered until 2001.  At that time, we were able to apply experiences from the near and complete depletion of our other Nassau grouper spawning sites (east end Brac, EE Grand, Sand Key, 12 mile bank, pickle etc) and the countless stories from around the Caribbean, and close our grouper holes to fishing. 

    How many Brac fishermen are there?  12 or so?  Looking at the attached letter, I know that at least half of the undersigned have never fished a grouper hole in their life.  So, that leaves a handful of folks that may benefit from fishing this aggregation.  Sadly, those folks are voters, and as there are so few voters in the Brac their LOUD voices are very important to the politicians. 

    The fate of the Nassau grouper rests on the shoulders of politics, again.  Never mind what’s the right thing to do…

    The current grouper ban has been in effect for 8 years.  No one starved.  Really, the debate is done and decided.  The public are already used to the ban and passing this legislation should be the easiest thing the Gov will do this year. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Further more these fishermen and the undersigned in the letter do not have a right to these endangered species! 

      Also, I think it is downright outrageous that the deputy premier and minister for the Brac signed this letter.  She is basically telling one of her government departments (the DOE) to stick it,  that she does not believe the science conducted by good, well-trained and qualified Caymanians,  XXXX

      • UDP Moron says:

        Hey, those DOE people don’t know anything. If it wasn’t for Big Mac they wouldn’t have those degrees in Marine Biology, and now they want to tell him that dredging the North Sound is a bad idea as well. Ingrates.

        Everybody knows that the people who vote in your district are far wiser and more knowledgeable in any subject than anyone else outside your district.

  17. petermilburn says:

    I certainly agree that a further ban on groupers will be good for the Cayman Islands.We have to bear in mind that our population is nothing like it used to be back in the late 60’s when I first came here.Its gone from about 9000 total to almost 60000 and we cannot possibly sustain catching groupers to help satisfy a large poirtion of the present population.Its the way it is and should be if we are to keep a good stock of these wonderful creatures for our future generations.I see where some people want a partial ban but be allowed to catch so many per person per day.That in my opinion would be too hard to enforce as I am sure there will be some that will never adhere to those rules.In that case the good will end up suffering for the bad and that is really a shame as there are fishermen out there who should not have to suffer because of a few.Maybe a slight change could be made but in the meantime leave it the way it is.

  18. Anonymous says:

    This just goes to show how depleted the grouper number was. . . it’s not magic. They just don’t “show up” overnight. Keep the grouper ban.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I just had a look at the attached list of people who are fighting to remove the ban on groupers and impose a 12 fish limit……I’ve known these people all my life, and some are even my family…..I also know that some of them, family or otherwise, are poachers of the worst kind, the kind that would not hesitate to exploit any marine life right down to the last one left on Earth!!! 

    I’ve personally heard two of the signatories listed say "If I don’t take it, somebody else will"

    It’s a poacher’s natural mindset and the common thread that binds them! 

    The ban seems to have generally kept them from having the grouper free-for-all they previously enjoyed at everyone elses expense, and from the evidence we have seen so far, the spawning grouper population has been rising which means the ban must be working.

    I’m sure most prudent minded people will agree that it would be a complete waste of all the time, money and effort already devoted to SAVING the groupers, if you throw it away now for the gready few!!! 

    Take a fellow fisherman’s foolish advice: DON’T REMOVE THE BAN!!!

  20. Animaliberator says:

    I guess nowadays it takes a scientist to understand one before anyone is paying attention. I wonder what these fisherman want or need to make them understand the simplicity of this case that there must be additional time to replenish this particular species. Same with the blue fin Tuna elswhere, the fastest growing species in the world and yet there are virtually none left to catch, anywhere! The Grouper in our waters will receive the same fate if not put to a halt for some more time to come or, they can all ignore this warning from a very reputable local scientist and say, the hell with it and keep on fishing which undoubtedly will result in the same outcome as the blue fin Tuna.

    We have no control whatsoever over the breeding speed of any marine fish anywhere in the world meaning that once the species has been depleted to a point of no return, that will it it, that particular species will likely never return. Japan tried that with the blue fin Tuna and failed miserably as marine fish do not breed very well and generally not at all in captivity.

    If the opposition to the extended ban does not believe that for some unexplanable reason, I can only suggest that they take up some reading on the subject or simply keep on fishing and find out later who was right and who was wrong. Most of us already know the answer to that question.

    What a price to pay, for the Grouper that is.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I say keep the grouper fishing ban for at least another 5 years. We have survived for the past 9 years without fishing for these groupers and not one single person in Cayman Brac or elsewhere has been affected by it. The Hon. Deputy Premier is only supporting this because of pressure from the local fishermen – voting time soon you know. These so called brac fishermen are sports fishermen and do not make their living fishing – of course if things are slow or rough a little extra cash does not hurt but they are not exactly making a living from fishing. There are other fish to be caught and sold. Keep the ban.

  22. The Beaver says:

    Let them fish themselves silly – and when it’s gone, let them cry and blame it on someone else.  Can’t fix stupid!!! The Beaver

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s these damn jamaicians, er, limeys, er filipinos er…………………..to blame

  23. Anonymous says:

    Do the hatchlings of Grouper come into the Mangroves to grow?

  24. Anonymous says:

    The Brac fisherman were the Groupers’ caretakers, and they failed in their responsibility. Now that the damage has been done, they cannot expect these fish to recover at their convenience. They need to do whatever it takes, and be thankful that there are scientists who have devoted their time to discovering the true picture before it was too late. Had it not been for then DOE they’d almost certainly be extinct by now. These fish belong to all of us.We must do the right thing.The World is watching.