Local grouper sites offer hope for species survival

| 24/01/2019 | 37 Comments
Cayman News Service

Nassau grouper (Photo courtesy DoE)

(CNS): With the Nassau grouper recently elevated to the ‘critically endangered’ list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the strongest warning it issues that a species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction, the spawning sites around the Sister Islands offer the last hope for the survival in the region of these iconic reef fish. The Department of Environment (DoE), in partnership with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), has resumed its annual ‘Grouper Moon’ research project in the Cayman Islands ahead of this year’s spawning to see if the recent resurgence in the Nassau grouper population is being sustained.

The project, which started in the mid-1980’s and grew into the ‘Grouper Moon’ when the REEF partnership began in 2002, has taken on a special significance this year because of the designation by the IUCN that the species is now in real danger of disappearing from the wild. The IUCN believes the Nassau grouper population has declined globally by more than 80% since 1980.

But work in the Cayman Islands over the past decade has resulted in a noticeable resurgence in numbers off the coast of Little Cayman, where at one spawning site monitored by scientists more than 6,500 grouper returned in January and February last year.

Cayman News Service

Nassau grouper spawning aggregatoin (Photo courtesy DoE – CLICK TO ENLARGE)

That is a significant increase from just a decade ago, when the site recorded fewer than 2,000 grouper. Another separate spawning site off Cayman Brac counted nearly 1,000 grouper last year after previous counts had shown less than half that number.

But despite the good news in our region, DoE Research Officer Bradley Johnson said this resurgence in the waters around the Sister Islands does not mean the species is out of trouble, even in local waters.

“It’s not nearly enough to take the species off the IUCN critically endangered list or to relax local protections for the species,” he said. “We have yet to see a similar resurgence in Grand Cayman.”

However, he said the data was encouraging and “highlights the importance of adhering to, and enforcing, Nassau grouper fishing restrictions set under the National Conservation Law”.

The current closed season for Nassau grouper in Cayman Islands waters began on 1 December and will last until 30 April, and it remains essential that the fish is left in peace during the breeding season.

Despite his mixed support for limitations on marine protections and the failure of his ministry to press ahead with much-needed enhanced marine protections in local waters, in a release about this year’s spawning Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour offered his support for the restrictions on catching grouper.

“We still hear occasional reports of Nassau grouper being caught during the closed season and the public must understand that fishing restrictions on the species have changed over the years,” Seymour said, as he offered support to the need to retain the closed season.

“The recent ‘critically endangered’ designation for Nassau grouper shows we did the right thing protecting them locally. It also makes it even more important for both Caymanian fishermen and visitors to respect the law and release any Nassau grouper they catch during the closed season,” the minister added.

Fishermen who inadvertently catch Nassau grouper during closed season should release them alive, even if the grouper is hurt during the catch. Using circle hooks, as opposed to J-hooks, can make the process of removing the hook from the fish’s mouth easier, as the circle hooks are designed to not hook in the stomach of the fish but rather in the mouth, making extraction less dangerous for the fish, DoE experts advised.

Anyone who witnesses, or who becomes aware of, Nassau grouper poaching during the closed season is asked to call 911 and may also contact DoE enforcement officers directly:

  • Grand Cayman (916-4271)
  • Cayman Brac (call 911)
  • Little Cayman (925-0185)

See the flyer on Nassau grouper conservation and important links to The Grouper Moon Project in the CNS Library

See the full Grouper Moon Changing Seas documentary by REEF below:

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (37)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    John John follow the advice of the scientist and we might make a half decent environmental minister out of you yet!

  2. J.Smith says:

    Get that XXXX DOE officer back in the boat, as he spends most of his time on the DOE clock working on boats, delivering boats or property management…yup that is well evidenced in North side and Frank Sound….corruption at its finest in front of everyone

  3. Anonymous says:

    Since the doe don’t have any boats or Officer, counting them is the only protection the grouper will get.

    • Anonymous says:

      Where does Kirk’s get their grouper from? No one seems to know including the people who work in the store.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Can we get an idea of where these spawning sites are? Asking for a friend.

  5. Anonymous says:

    They selling grouper all day long on the water front

  6. Anonymous says:

    I know, let’s open a Grouper “Centre” and subsidise it to the tune of millions of dollars a year!

  7. Anonymous says:

    PPM cares not for the environment.

  8. Anon says:

    just shut down nassau grouper fishing on all 3 islands for as long as it takes. and continue to educate tje younger population. if a species is on the verge of extinction why are we still having a season at all?

  9. Anonymous says:

    CNS, would you find out if DoE has any plans to replace the former Marine Officer on the Brac?

    I’ll send the question to Auntie.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do they have any realistic plans to get adequate officers on GCM and a ‘fit for purpose’ boat fleet, (or boat) that can protect our fisheries?
      CIG spending millions on killing iguanas but nothing on protecting the indigenous animals we have.
      They even rely on a UK initiative to bring the Blue Iguana back from extinction.
      When is someone at DOE going to take protection more seriously?

  10. Anonymous says:

    We need to get serious about poaching all species of marine life on this island.

    We need more marine officers. We need lengthy prison sentences, seizure and destruction of boats and equipment for anyone caught.

    Or we can continue to ignore the problem and be left with nothing in the not so distant future.

  11. Anonymous says:

    i grew up in little cayman ….back in late 70’s and 80’s.I am happy to say that the nassau as well as fish population is now doubled since the measues for protecting them has been instituted. e.g. you can now catch nassau and other grouper species as well as mutton snappers from shoreline….it shows that the fish populations has increased…and the measures by the DOE are working! I also must give praise to MR WAYNE PANTON…for his initiation of the laws to protect them, when he was the minister for environment. He continues to be a strong advocate for the futures marine protection in the islands. Keep up good work to all…..

  12. Anonymous says:

    Let’s get grouper, turtle, and juvenile lobster tails off our menus and out of the stores please.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Why are people allowed to fish a critically endangered species at all?! Forget about ‘offering support to the closed season’ Minister – this species now needs to be treated like turtles, without delay! Especially if we’re a bright spot in its fight for survival regionally! Why is this place so thick and slow with obvious things: no fishing endangered species! SMFH

  14. Anonymous says:

    Delicious. Having me some grouper row on toast as we speak.

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