Marine scientist joins call for grouper ban extension

| 12/04/2011

(CNS): Underwater scientist, Josh Stewart, has joined the call for the ban on fishing at the Little Cayman grouper hole during spawning season to be extended. Working with researchers from the Grouper Moon Project, Stewart is helping with public education, outreach blogging and writing articles for international diving magazines about the last-known intact spawning area of Nassau grouper in the world. The ban which has protected this precious resource for almost ten years will run out at the end of this year and Stewart has joined the Department of Environment (DoE) in the campaign to ensure the protection during spawning remains in place until. Without an extension the species could be lost forever. (Photo Phil Bush)

“This is the last-known intact spawning mass of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean, and thus the world,” Stewart wrote in his blog. “All other aggregations, some of which may have exceeded 100,000 fish, have been systematically wiped out by fishing during the spawning period."

He explained to the worldwide web audience that this was down to the protection offered for the better part of a decade. However, despite its fame and ecological importance, protection for the grouper hole is set to run before 2012.

“Come December 2011, this invaluable protection will end unless government elects to renew current fishing bans. Protecting Nassau grouper ‘capital’ by protecting the spawning aggregation ensures a healthy fish stock that will keep fishermen in business for years to come,” Stewart said.

The DoE has already called for an extension as it says lengthening the ban will ensure local fisherman can continue to fish grouper into the future.

“For now, spawning numbers are dangerously low and without a ban, we could see the grouper disappear from our waters altogether in the next five years,” warned Gina Ebanks-Petrie. “It is not a ban on fishing grouper; it is just a ban on fishing them while they are spawning.”

She explained that unrestricted fishing of grouper and their spawning aggregations in the waters off Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac had already brought those populations close to extinction.

“The same is true for the rest of the Caribbean, which prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the Nassau grouper as endangered,” the DoE boss said. “The fact is, the Nassau grouper population off Little Cayman is likely the most plentiful anywhere in regional waters and therefore needs all the protection it can get.”

The Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) is thought to be an ecological and economic cornerstone of Caribbean coral reefs. Since 2004, a seasonal fishing ban has been in effect in all designated grouper spawning areas around the Cayman Islands.

Bans in any of the designated grouper spawning areas run from November through March. Off Grand Cayman, these areas are located at Coxswain Bank, East End and South West Point’s Sand Cay. Around Cayman Brac and Little Cayman they are found at the east and west ends of the islands. The northeast and southwest ends of 12-Mile Bank are also protected.

Follow Josh Stewart’s blog.

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  1. Just Commentin' says:

    Grouper is not on my “tasty” list (as opposed to Ahi, Aku, Ono, Mahimahi, Ulua, Kaku and Humuhumunukunukuapua╩╗a). Anyway, grouper does not have a fancy-sounding Hawaiian alternate “menu” name, so its food value has always been questionable in my opinion. Besides, any fish that might be wormy has no place on my plate.

    Grouper are safe around me. Please do maintain the ban.

    Heck, I would suggest enacting an absolute ban on fishing grouper. Then I will no longer have to inspect for worms when friends serve me freshly caught local fish.

  2. Local Commonsense says:

     Let’s see people: No-one…and I mean No-One…in these islands survives solely off of the sale of these Groupers.  My understanding is that the current ban was for the spawning sites, during spawning season and thereby offering some measure of protection for the species at large.  

    I remember years ago seeing the carcasses of hundreds of groupers, during a particular over-fishing season, carried out in greed with no legislation or enforcement to curtail or contain the catches. 

    I have heard hundreds of stories from my parents, and my grand parents and many others about how abundant the seas and marine life were when they were young, while they acknowledge that the depletion is irreversible. What part of extinct do people not understand? Or are they so selfish that they want to have it all now and rape the future?  

    Everything has a breaking point, and unless we do show some restraintand good conservative sense now, our children and grandchildren will only ever see, taste and know about the grouper from literary recollections and storytelling.  

    You can’t have it all and have it forever! Change is inevitable, but selfish is a choice!  

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Local fishermen and survival of the human race ?or Scientists and the survival of groupers?”

    Wow, what a crazy comment. No one is starving to death here. We are not a 3rd world country. There are many other fish in the sea.

  4. petermilburn says:

    Unfortunately the good will have to suffer with the bad in this case.From my experience with how SOME local fishermen BUT NOT all local fishermen,fish for groupers fries sprats etc.a lot of these species will be fished out in the very near future.Over the years I have told many people that fish are so much smarter than we are and we can learn so much from these occupants of our local waters.Take fries for example.The fish that feed on them during their time in the sun like Jacks,Yellow Tails,Groupers and others KNOW when to STOP feeding on them.Many times I have marveled at the beauty of these fries in caves all over the island and how the sunlite filters down and through the crevices to make some unbelievable underwater pictures.Go back there a few weeks later and there are still some left but the preditors have stopped feeding on them because they know that by leaving some will make sure that they are around the following year.This is nature at its finest trying to tell us when enough is enough and until we get this message we will sadly never learn to help preserve so many of these endangered species.We can all learn from these fine examples in all walks of life.NATURE KNOWS BEST.

  5. Animaliberator says:

    The ban on grouper fishing whilst spawning should be for forever, period! For the moment and some 5-10 years to come, general grouper fishing should also be banned also to properly re-instate the species and expand the amount of spawning pods in the region. To exclude one species (for now) is not considered a loss of business by any means and very few actually fish for the sake of business anyway so let common sense prevail and leave the groupers alone.

    But, as proven with the turtle, lobster, conch and the grouper, we’ll see who is paying attention to this.

    I trust the marine enforcement will do their job properly and proscecute anyone braking these laws.

  6. Bad LeRoy Brown says:

    The DoE has shown that the Nassau grouper has suffered a dramatic decline in numbers and is just beginning a slow comeback.  The ten years it takes for the grouper to reach spawning age means that the groupers that were spawned at the beginning of the fishing ban are just now coming online.  Continued protection is necessary to rebuild the population.  We need to continue their protection until there is evidence the numbers have increased to a point where reasonable harvesting can be resumed.  I, for one, will be glad to wait until they are plentiful again.  It will be worth the wait!

  7. Mark Meword says:

    Are we sure that Little Cayman “is the last-known intact spawning mass of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean, and thus the world”?

    If this is true then we are in bigger trouble than we wish to admit!

    Let me know, beacuse know I will have to decide which team to bat for. Local fishermen and survival of the human race ?or Scientists and the survival of groupers?
    I know they sound pretty simple to in writing, but it’s really not that simple in the “righting”.

    • Paradise Lost says:

      Mark, I’m fairly confident the fishermen on the Brac and Little Cayman have been making their way by fishing other fish. I am also very confident that mankind will survive this ban. The ban simply protects the grouper during the spawning seasons. It is not year round. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

      We are the stewards of the land and sea and we need to do a much better job. I want my children to dive these waters for decades to come and enjoy what nature has allowed us to enjoy. I hope to never hear from them, “dad, where did all the fish go?”

      • Mark Meword says:

        Agreed! Thanks for seeing through that.
        Some other may have not seen through it, but I agree, if we didnt starve in the last 9 years- 1-2 grouper dinners missing won’t kill us.

        Scwabbs taste good. I’ll stick to them and the Lion Fish.

        Maintain the ban!