Grouper ban 
spawns discontent


    East End fishermen are angry after a meeting with environmental officials revealed that it might be another eight years before they can fish Coxswain Bank – a breeding ground for groupers.

    The eight-year ban on fishing Nassau Grouper breeding grounds was first considered in 2003 and scheduled to come to an end this year.

    Fuming fishermen dominated the recent meeting despite attempts by Department of Environment officials to keep order.

    “What I know is, this is going to cause problems,” said Gary Rankine when contacted by the Compass days after the meeting. “This is taking food from our mouths. I don’t see what is so wrong with them telling us six groupers per boat and then leave. We can get a few conch, a few lobsters and a few whelks, so what is wrong with a few groupers?”

    The fishermen said DoE officials did not tell them they could not catch groupers. Instead, they were told to go somewhere else to catch them but they could not take them from the breeding grounds.

    “We abided by the law; now they are telling us there may be another eight-year ban instead of saying you can catch a few. That is just not right,” said Huswell Rankine. “We give and we take, but people are getting enough of it.”

    The ban was put in place to give the groupers the chance to multiply and to preserve the species for future generations because over-fished breeding grounds showed a steady decline in the grouper population, said DoE research officer Bradley Johnson.

    “From the day I was born, I came and found the groupers there and they have never slacked down. They say it’s only 5,000 groupers; how they know that? I know there will be a lot of trouble in East End. They have stopped everything else, now they are telling us we cannot get a piece of fish,” said Jerlow Rankine.

    “Caymanians have been fishing these waters for years. Back in the day they would come in with hundreds of groupers. I remember back then they killed turtles on the beach and no one had anything to say; now there is a ban on turtles, lobster, conch, whelks and now grouper. What else are they going to ban? It is just not right,” he added.

    It’s still being determined whether the ban will be lifted after 2011. Groupers can be caught outside designated spawning areas as long as they are at least 12 inches long. Fishermen can be prosecuted for taking groupers from the spawning holes, according to the Marine Conservation Law, and face a maximum penalty of $500 and one year in jail. Upon conviction, forfeiture of vessel or other equipment may also be ordered.

    The exact fine amount and-or jail term is left to the discretion of the judge.

    The meeting was held to educate fishermen about groupers, their habitat and research findings.

    According to Mr. Johnson, the grouper ban happened in two parts; when two fishermen from Little Cayman and Cayman Brac discovered a new spawning site for Nassau Grouper on the west end of Little Cayman and removed 1,200 fish. Other fishermen removed 800 more before the fish had spawned and moved on.

    The second occurred in 2002 when DoE, along with Reef Environmental Education Foundation, did a dive survey on Little Cayman’s west end site and gathered information from Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman to assess how many fish were still there and how the population had changed. Approximately 2,000 fish had been taken, which brought the total fish removed to just less than 4,000 in two years of fishing.

    In 2003 an assessment was carried out and if fishing had occurred in 2004, the spawning population would have been decimated. That was when the Conservation Board banned fishing on designated spawning sites for eight years, said Mr. Johnson.

    “We believe there are fewer fish in the Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac population. The fish that do show up are expecting more fish to come and so are waiting longer for a buildup of numbers in order to maximise their reproductive potential,” he said.

    “Sixteen years, come on DoE. It has been quite a while that we have not gotten any groupers. At least give us a chance to go out there. We know when groupers are spawning. We know when they stay on the bank. We are born East Enders; Coxswain Bank is right in East End. We know when they are there. Just give us the chance to go out there and get six per boat. Just don’t tell us we can’t go out there and catch none,” said Gary Rankine, who grew up catching groupers at Coxswain Bank with his father. “It is our tradition and way of life, don’t take that away from us.”

    Another meeting is planned for East End once DoE has a proposal to discuss a way forward.

    Cayman Grouper history


    rely on the reef coral for shelter, protection and food. Groupers, which migrate to Coxswain Bank and other spawning areas, live on the reefs around Cayman for the rest of the year.

    Protecting spawning grounds results in more groupers and ensures groupers for future generations.

    Spawning for the groupers usually occurs around full moons in January, February and sometimes March. They usually leave about 10 days after showing up at spawning grounds. In the case of depleted populations, they usually stay two to three times longer.

    Groupers take up to eight years to become sexually mature.

    Groupers are territorial and maintain the same home range throughout the year.

    Research and monitoring is being carried out by the DoE on spawning sites to count the amount of fish that come, to see where eggs are being distributed and have technical divers explore deeper areas of the site.

    DoE began monitoring breeding grounds in 1987. Data from all three Islands shows a steady decline in all measurements taken.

    Spawning areas are on Little Cayman’s west and east ends; Cayman Brac, east end; Grand Cayman, south west point, Coxswain Bank East End and on 12 Mile Bank, northeast and southwest ends.

    Anyone wishing to report violations of the Marine Conservation Law may do so confidentially to the DOE at 949-8469, Marine Enforcement Supervisor Mark Orr at 916-4271, or Emergency 911.


    Fishing for Nassau Groupers in spawning holes is still forbidden in the Cayman Islands.
    Photo: Guy Harvey


    1. Bah, just let them fish it. And when they have no more groupers. There is no one to blame but themselves.

      I mean, because obviously the conservation officials are just being big meanies, who like putting bans on whatever they want, just to make people mad.
      /sarcasm off

    2. This is the ONLY way to protect groupers from disappearing in Cayman altogether. The fisherman would just end up taking every last one of them, then complain because there werent any groupers. Six per day x 6 days a week x 20 fishing boats (fisherman from North Side would come as would fisherman from Savannah too). Thats 36 a week per fisherman x 20 boats = 720 groupers, x 45 weeks (allowing for weather) = 32,400 groupers caught a year! The numbers are staggering. Even if only 10 boats fish there (and believe me, there are more) you are still looking at 16,000 grouper being caught. So, fisherman, the government is not taking the food out of your mouths, you are doing it to yourself. I you are hungry, buy some chickens and have a small hen house in your backyard. Steady eggs, steady supply of chickens. Unless you eat them all.

    3. You talk about a way of life. When the older people used to fish these grounds they were a small group that caught only what was needed so that some were left for next season not the people that go there now intent on wiping out the whole spawning ground in one day. Whats going to be left for the younger generations to enjoy if you destroy everything now? I think a lifetime ban on spawning grounds should be put in place not just a few years these areas should be designated replenishment zones, even if only during the spawning season. If it is just a few years ban then a limit should be set of 5 per boat a licence to fish grouper in these areas needed that would help government with revenue. Im a born Caymanian and I would like my children grandchildren to see groupers swimming amoung our reefs. Go somewhere else and catch grouper. Why does it have to be a spawning ground? Because you can catch more in a short period of time thats why. Greed has ruined this little island already lets try not to make it any worst.

    4. It really angered me that the fishermen responsible for over fishing the grouper during spawning season really hurt the numbers of the local grouper breeding population. It was completely greedy and irresponsible.
      The fishermen responsible should get the anger of the East End fishermen not the Department of Environment.

    5. These fishermen amaze me. Yes they want to go to the spawning grounds so that they can load up in a short time and get ashore to sell their catch. I remember years ago when the 2000 grouper were caught off Little Cayman. A lot of them were sent over here for sale and found to be inedible because of their condition during spawning. Oh yeah, and I swear that I will only take 6 if you let me fish the spawning grounds! The ignorance of my people will never cease to amaze me.

    6. Let them have it. My own people sicken me to my very core. When the fish, conch, lobsters and tourists are all gone and there are no more expats wiping our noses for us then we’ll see Cayman for what it truly is – A Godless and soulless country full of greedy children with no education and no way out.
      My family is not a big family but all of us have our eyes on the exit – this place is only going to get worse before it gets better.

    7. My friend,

      Cayman has been a Godless, soulless country for a very long time now while pretending to be quite the opposite.

      When Cayman basically cut off itself from interacting with the outside world by travelling widely, even migrating or working on secondment or contractual arrangements etc etc in the manner in which the former generation did, Cayman began to die.

      The former generation might not have had formal education and degrees but they had seamens skills unrivalled in the world and they were the expatriate professionals that Cayman exported to the world.

      In return, they interacted and integrated and knew themselves as no better or worse than any others because they shared the same values for survival.

      The very same economic boom that so many hypocrites praised as Gods blessing to Cayman and Caymanians has proven to be a curse and now the results are coming home to bear heavily.

      The LOVE of money is and has always been the root of all evil and in nowhere else in the world has the LOVE of money been more worshipped than in modern Cayman.

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