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Nassau Grouper Under Threat From Heavy Fishing

Partners in Nassau Grouper research (from left) Lakeshia Anderson (Bahamas National Trust), Annabelle Brooks (Cape Eleuthera Institute), Olivia Patterson (Friends of the Environment), Dr Kristine Stump (Shedd Aquarium) and Casuarina McKinney-Lambert (BREEF). Photo: Dr Craig Dahlgren

Partners in Nassau Grouper research (from left) Lakeshia Anderson (Bahamas National Trust), Annabelle Brooks (Cape Eleuthera Institute), Olivia Patterson (Friends of the Environment), Dr Kristine Stump (Shedd Aquarium) and Casuarina McKinney-Lambert (BREEF). Photo: Dr Craig Dahlgren

THE NASSAU Grouper, one of the most important fishery species in the Bahamas and wider Caribbean, is under threat of survival because of heavy over-fishing, according to scientists.

Grouper is the highest-priced and most popular food fish in the Bahamas but due to increasing scarcity its market price shows that it is now a luxury item.

Nassau Grouper has been fished out in most of its regional range, but scientists say it is still possible to protect a viable population in the Bahamas with proper fishery management. Despite a closed season implemented in 2004, a high level of poaching still takes place at spawning aggregations, which are key to the species’ survival. Scientists have reportedly seen evidence of active fishing at every spawning site they visit during the closed season.

Despite the fishing embargo, some spawning aggregations have already disappeared, and once this happens they never recover. Meanwhile, commercial landings of grouper have been declining for more than two decades.

The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is supporting a multi-year research study on the Nassau grouper led by Dr Craig Dahlgren of the Caribbean Marine Research Centre and Bahamian Phd candidate Krista Sherman. They are supported by Dr Kristine Stump, a marine biologist who worked at the Bimini Field Station, of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

“This research will help us develop effective management practices that will be of major significance for the future status of the species,” BNT Executive Director Eric Carey said on Friday. “Groupers only spawn in aggregations and if these are depleted there will be no next generation of groupers.”

Ms Sherman, who before beginning graduate studies at the University of Exeter was a BNT science officer, said: “Bahamians have fished grouper for centuries, and the fishery supports thousands of livelihoods. For the last three years we’ve been assessing the status of spawning aggregation sites. The Bahamas is one of the few places where these still exist.”

To improve understanding of the population structure and physiology of grouper spawning aggregations, the researchers are using cutting-edge techniques including advanced acoustic telemetry and genetic analyses. Divers have placed 33 acoustic telemetry monitors over 200 miles of the continental shelf off the eastern coast of Andros. Past studies revealed that groupers migrate along the edge of the shelf.

Researchers have tagged scores of Groupers, and others have had acoustic transmitters surgically implanted. Blood samples and fin clips are also being collected for genetic testing at the University of Exeter.

Partners in this effort include the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation, the Atlantis Resort, the Exuma Foundation, Friends of the Environment, Dr Karen Murchie (College of The Bahamas), The Nature Conservancy and the Gerace Research Centre.

These groups are working with local fishing communities to obtain Nassau Grouper samples from around docks or landing sites on several islands.

“The information we are developing is crucial to advance conservation efforts and set fishery management policies,” Ms Sherman said. “The genetics work will help explain how Grouper movements and larval transport affect the health of the species in the Bahamas.”

Comments

sheeprunner12 2 years, 10 months ago

Soooooooooo what is new??????? ............... the real problem is the lack of scientific research into fish farming ............ just take a look at what they do in Japan, China and Scandinavia ................ why can't the authorities do the same with grouper and snapper here and get the local fisherman in Andros, Long Island, Abaco and Eleuthera to go into fish farming for conch, grouper and snapper ............ get some of that free IDB money to do these critical fishing projects .....Perry, VAGray and Halkitis

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Johnny 2 years, 10 months ago

So many Islands this can be done on.

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Johnny 2 years, 10 months ago

All that money on carnival should be spent on managing our resources. Especially our sea food.

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ks22 2 years, 10 months ago

There is a group looking into fish farming Nassau grouper in Nassau, but as it turns out, it's very hard, and not economically/commercially feasible. Plus, aquaculture isn't always the answer for many, many reasons. For example, it takes an incredible amount of fish meal to feed the fish you're trying to farm. So while it solves one problem, it creates another. There are also issues with diseases, parasites, pollution of natural habitats due to excess nutrients being flushed out of aquaculture systems, genetic issues, can eventually threaten the livelihoods of fishermen, etc. There is definitely a lot of scientific research going into fish farming, but it's just not there yet in a way that makes economic or environmental sense.

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jt 2 years, 10 months ago

The research is there. The problem is that grouper and snapper have incredibly long and complicated larval phases, and even supplying them with the food they require becomes a complicated endeavour. Add in the cost of bringing in the materials for an aquaculture facility, power outages and events such as hurricanes and it's an incredibly risky proposition. Fish raised like this would be far too expensive. A simple tilapia project might be feasible, but grouper will continue their march to oblivion if spawning sites are not protected.

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sheeprunner12 2 years, 10 months ago

Do you see how in Sweden or Japan, they just fence in piece of the coast and transfer baby fish from the labs and grow them????? Again I ask ..... what is different between them doing it as household/village small business investments and us?????? ............ we are too addicted to canned tuna and sardines

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