This last site had over 4,000 spawning Nassau Grouper removed from it, in only 2 years of fishing…
A marine scientist doing field work
at the Nassau Grouper aggregation
in the waters off Little Cayman.
[Photo courtesy the Grouper Moon Project]
A few years ago I started covering this story after a series of massive overfishing episodes threatened this critical predatory reef species prompted the Cayman Islands Government to close the fishing site on Little Cayman until they could gather data on the Nassau Grouper. They discovered that the thousands of Grouper in that single site were all resident Little Cayman Nassau Grouper. Now the importance of this aggregation site is internationally recognized, not just for the health of Little Cayman’s reefs, but for the future study of this species.
As the winter full moon approaches, the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman prepares for the annual arrival of the Grouper Moon Project team. Each year from late January to early February, scientists and volunteers of the Reef Environment Education Foundation (REEF) join staff from the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) to document the last healthy, active and protected Nassau Grouper spawning site just off Little Cayman. The Southern Cross Club and others in the local community provide vital support to the team, recognizing that it takes an entire community to bring this historical and endangered species back from the brink of extinction.
You can read more here: (http://www.pitchengine.com/pitches/7d1e2df1-4739-4736-80be-71a41b0fc895)
Follow along here: (http://www.reef.org/groupermoonproject)
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.