With fishermen back out at sea and leisure activities on the water now virtually uninhibited, the Department of Environment is reminding those casting their lines to fish in moderation.
Of particular note for the DoE is the increasing numbers of parrotfish that are being seen for sale at local stalls.
“We definitely need to balance that, and if parrotfish are being targeted more than other species of fish, or if it’s a large portion of those being removed… ultimately, that’s going to cause a decline in the numbers on our reefs, and that’s going to cause problems for our reef in the future,” DoE Research Officer Bradley Johnson told the Cayman Compass in a recent Zoom interview.
Johnson said parrotfish are key to maintaining a healthy marine system.
“They’re part of the large fish species and other types of grazers that are a critical component to the reef system. All fish play a vital role, and parrotfish are no different from that. It’s one of many creatures that we want to make sure that they, and the complete ecosystem, has good protections because you want to make sure that all aspects of it are healthy,” he said.
While Johnson pointed out is it not illegal to catch parrotfish, he said fishermen and those who do leisure fishing should limit their take.
“One thing we can say is, with regards to fishing, it’s good to do everything in moderation. One of the things that we were hoping for is the new marine parks systems that were approved last year … is going to help to protect larger areas,” he said.
Under the regulations, parrotfish under 8 inches long must not be removed from the sea.
“We need to do whatever we can to try and identify those fish and try to protect them. There has been work going on in the background looking at that, but there’s nothing really in a legislative sense that makes it illegal to take out parrotfish at this point,” Johnson said.
As fishing locally gets back to normal, Johnson is asking fishermen to spread their catch and not take too many of one species of fish.
“If you have one species that’s being targeted more than others, then that creates the imbalance that can ultimately cause things like algae to start to increase in abundance, and that will smother the reef and prevent new corals from settling there. We need to balance all aspects of that,” he said.
In previous summers, the DoE, in partnership with Bangor University in Wales, has conducted surveys of the parrotfish population. However, the research students from the university will not be coming to Cayman due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every summer, we have students come down and do repeat surveys for different components looking at our reef health. One of them is fish biomass. They have produced a masters research based on that data. We’ve done that for a number of years in the past. And this year we haven’t been able to do it so far because of the restrictions,” Johnson said.
However, he said the DoE research team still plans to visit the reefs and collect the data.
He said he would like to see parrotfish protected.
“Parrotfish, as a species, needs to be looked at, in terms of the protections given to it, along with all other sort of fish that eat algae. Algae is one of the big contributors to the decline [in coral] we’ve had. So, any species that removes algae from the reef is something that we need to look at carefully. It’s just like the sea urchins,” he said.
Sea urchins suffered a mass die-off in 1983, which impacted the health of reefs as the spiny creatures fed off algae on the reefs. The urchin population has never fully recovered.