Footage and discussion from Little Cayman and one of the last (fairly) healthy nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Caribbean.
There’s really good evidence to suggest that when those grouper are spawning out there, the baby grouper that are produced end up back on the Cayman reefs.
After they sold what they could here then they took their catch to Grand Cayman and sold what they could there. The market was glutted and lots of fish went to waste… spoiled.
Grouper are an apex predator on coral reefs… the more of them you have, ultimately the healthier your coral reefs will be.
May 5, 2004
Went fishing today, walked a country mile to catch a bonefish… but catch one I did.
The tide was dead low, and half the bay was uncovered. I saw a flat I’d never walked before, only barely suspected was there. I walked through mud and soggy turtle grass, around mangroves and across shallow pools where snappers darted beneath my feet and stood out there with nothing but the wind in my ears and not a fish to be seen. Yet, it was beautiful: light northeast breeze, clear skies, and birds resting on the dry flats. I thanked God for it all.
It was the birds that did it, flying off like they do. They flew over a school of bonefish that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. I heard the splash when they spooked and turned to see the wake as they swirled around before settling down again. I trudged through the muddy grass to reach them.
I fished them well, I thought, but they wouldn’t eat. I had on a chartreuse fly, which may have been a mistake. Certainly they saw it, but it just seemed to make them nervous. If they’d been feeding they may have eaten it, but these were laid-up fish, resting in the shallows on a slack tide. I changed flies. Still nothing, and by then the fish had moved so that I had to cast with the wind over my right shoulder. Not good. And the new fly also seemed to make them uneasy. Must not look like food, I guess.
I waded out to get a better casting angle and changed flies again. This time I tied on an old, beat-up shrimp fly. It was missing one eye and of its original four legs had only two, both on the same side. I had good versions, but I refused to use a fresh one for myself—I needed those for my clients. This was partly laziness—they’re a pain in the ass to tie—but also a move to keep the odds against me. More and more that’s how I like my own fishing. Just the fact I was here, in a place I’d never fished before when I knew there would be fish on other flats—less muddy, easier to reach flats, where I know what the fish wanted to eat—well, that sort of says it all.
I worked out a cast and let the fly sink. The school approached and I gave it a slow strip. There! A wake followed. Suddenly I came tight and my leader went sheering through the water. Bonefish scattered like birds.
Within minutes I removed the hook and gently rubbed the head of a bonefish I’d never seen before. It swam away and I checked my beat-up fly. I sure wish there was another pattern that worked so well.
The fish were gone I didn’t feel the need to find more. Time to head home, back over the miles of grass and mud; I would walk and think about shrimp flies, birds, and bonefish and how sometimes you have to walk a bloody country mile to learn something you already knew.
Researchers from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment study one of the last great reproductive populations of Nassau Grouper. Normally a solitary species, during the winter full moons Nassau Grouper travel, sometimes over great distances, to “group” together and spawn.
While most of the known spawning sites in the Caribbean have been fished out over the years, the west end of Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands is home to largest known reproductive spawning aggregation of this endangered species.
To put this in perspective there’s the story of a Caymanian fisherman who bragged about fishing the grouper holes to such an extent that after cleaning his catch he left over 100 pounds of grouper eggs (row) on the dock to rot. He was proud of his achievement and (so the story goes) did it again the following year.
There has been verified over-fishing of all 6 known spawning aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. Three are fished out completely, 2 are in serious decline, and only one—discovered in 2001—has enough members to provide any appreciable replenishment. This last site had over 4,000 spawning Nassau Grouper removed from it, in only 2 years of fishing… and the fishing only occurs over a few days each year (when the grouper gather to spawn on the “grouper moon”.
I remember that year and the stories from friends and family of a market glutted with so many grouper you couldn’t give it away. There were tales of grouper rotting for lack of freezer space. True or not, the fact is that an island of barely 40 thousand in inhabitants doesn’t need that many grouper at one time, nor are there logistics in place to export any. Basically the sheer tonnage of this catch came down to greed.
There seems to be something that happens in the brains of even the most well mannered, reasonable people when they discover such a boon that sheer greed—an atavistic trait from our days as hunter-gatherers, perhaps—seems to overcome us and our brains shut off. It’s similar to putting a teenager behind the wheel of a supped-up Honda, or placing spring breakers on the back of a jet-ski: nothing good can result.
Unfortunately at the time there was no law against such fishing practices (the aggregation site has since been closed to fishing), so we couldn’t lobby to have the culprits publicly flogged. In fact, those responsible didn’t have to pay so much as a nickle (five-cent) in fishing licences. Being Caymanian they could simply take what they wanted, with an ill-deserved sense of entitlement.
Now, I’m a ‘local’, a Caymanian, but this type of behavior is unconscionable. Luckily some other good folks, like Guy Harvey, also think so and are pushing to have all the spawning sites closed to fishing permanently. I say, YES.