The Department of Environment is keeping a close watch on the endangered Nassau grouper.
The DoE and Reef Environmental Education Foundation have resumed their annual “Grouper Moon” research project that will carry over into February.
The Grouper Moon Project involves monitoring of the annual Nassau grouper spawning, during which large numbers of the fish aggregate at specific sites during a full moon.
The initiative takes on an added urgency with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s recent change in classification for the Nassau grouper. The fish, previously classified as endangered, is now listed as critically endangered, which is the strongest warning the IUCN can issue.
The IUCN believes that the Nassau grouper population has declined globally by more than 80 percent since 1980, and the Grouper Moon project has been going on for more than 30 years.
Despite the grouper’s precarious global position, the DoE and REEF have seen a noticeable resurgence in the grouper population around the Sister Islands over the last decade. In fact, one spawning site off the coast of Little Cayman that was monitored by scientists saw more than 6,500 grouper return in January and February of last year, according to the DoE. A decade ago, the same site recorded fewer than 2,000 grouper.
Another spawning site off Cayman Brac counted nearly 1,000 grouper last year.
Earlier counts at the same exact site came in at roughly half that number.
“It’s not nearly enough to take the species off the IUCN critically endangered list or to relax local protections for the species. We have yet to see a similar resurgence in Grand Cayman,” said DoE Research Officer Bradley Johnson. “It is encouraging data and it highlights the importance of adhering to, and enforcing, Nassau grouper fishing restrictions set under the National Conservation Law.”
The Cayman Islands prohibits fishing for Nassau grouper between Dec. 1 and April 30. Anyone who takes, purchases, receives, offers for sale, exchanges or donates Nassau grouper during that span of time commits an offense under the National Conservation law. It is also illegal to possess or permit another person to take Nassau grouper from Cayman waters during the closed season.
“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,” said Minster for Environment Dwayne Seymour as part of an official press release.
“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,” he added.
Fishermen who accidentally catch Nassau grouper during the closed season are advised to release them alive even if the fish is hurt during the process. Fishermen are advised to use circle hooks as opposed to J-hooks to facilitate the removal of the hook from the fish’s mouth.
Anyone who witnesses or becomes aware of Nassau grouper poaching during the closed season is encouraged to call 911 and may also contact DoE enforcement officers directly on Grand Cayman (916-4271), on Cayman Brac (call 911) or on Little Cayman (925-0185).
For more information about the handling or releasing of Nassau groupers and the Grouper Moon project, visit the DoE website at www.doe.ky or contact DoE Public Education and Outreach Officer Brent Fuller at 244-5984/922-5514 or [email protected]