Nassau Grouper is “Critically Endangered” Print E-mail
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Friday, 08 February 2019 00:00

The Nassau grouper, a fish known for its spawning accumulations in and around the Caribbean Sea, is now a “Critically Endangered” species, according to a new assessment by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). This fish, which inhabits the Caribbean Sea and averages about 20 pounds, has been in decline since the 1980s and since then, has seen an even steeper decline with more than 80% of its population declining. In Belize, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) estimates the population of the fish at the Glover’s Reef Atoll at around 400, a distressing decline from 15,000 recorded approximately five years ago.

According to scientists, the Nassau grouper now runs the risk of extinction and Dr. Alexander Tewfik, Senior Conservation Scientist for the WCS Belize Program, says that considering the fish as “critically endangered” is a renewed called to action following other implementations in Belize which include size limits, closed seasons, and closed areas.

Victor Alamina, Technical Assistant at WCS, says that one of the biggest threats to the Nassau grouper is the illegal fishing techniques still being practiced, which include overfishing. Heavy fishing conducted during the grouper’s spawning, which occur from December through March, is especially harmful to this species, by removing the biggest and best adults from the population. The loss of coral reefs, which act as the grouper’s primary habitat, is also a contributing factor to the decline of the Nassau grouper’s population.

The new assessment on the Nassau grouper and its new Critically Endangered listing was recently published and supported by studies and data generated by WCS scientists working in the coastal waters of Belize. WCS is also a part of the Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group, a partnership that has worked since 2001 to protect and manage the country’s fish aggregations in sites where they occur in Belize waters. Thirteen of Belize’s Nassau grouper aggregation sites are fully-protected, and fishing for the species is closed for four months. Further, only fish between 20 and 30 inches in size are legal for harvesting. Nevertheless, some sites have seen fewer fish over the years, including the Glover’s Reef Atoll. Nicole Auil Gomez, Country Director, WCS, says that these laws and regulations do need some updating and Ralna Lewis, Assistant Country Director, WCS, says that beyond laws and regulations, more boats on the sea are needed to deter persons that conduct illegal fishing practices, who are often times not even Belizeans.