“This is an unsustainable practice. If you catch any fish while they’re spawning is like going into the maternity ward and shooting all the mothers,” said internationally known artist and conservationist Guy Harvey, reacting to a fishing video many are calling an egregious example of overfishing.
The video is causing a stir on social media.
Dr. Harvey told Cayman 27 it shows what happens when anglers abuse a grouper spawning aggregation site, or SPAG site. It’s a practice he said undermines years of conservation efforts. He’s calling for a closed season on all grouper species before they are all fished out.
“They’re a slow growing, long lived animal, and they cannot take the level of exploitation that’s currently being put on them as we’ve just seen from this very graphic video,” said Dr. Harvey.
Cayman 27 obtained the video, originally disseminated in a group chat on a messaging service. It shows dozens and dozens of yellowfin grouper, pulled from the sea onto the deck of a fishing boat, some still gasping for life.
“This video here shows a perfect example of the kind of abuse of SPAGs that we want to fight against,” said Dr. Harvey.
Dr. Harvey, whose ‘Grouper Moon’ documentary showcased the Nassau grouper’s spawning ritual, told Cayman 27 it’s time to extend protection to other grouper species.
“The goliath grouper, black grouper, yellow grouper, yellowfin, tiger grouper, Nassau grouper, yellow mouth, and the red hind. These are all what we call reef species of grouper, and they’ve all been heavily overfished in the last 50 years to the point that it’s really unsustainable,” he said.
Dr. Harvey suggested instituting a closed season from November to March for all grouper, similar to what’s already in place for conch and lobster.
“We’ve seen that that type of legislation works, if you don’t take them when they’re reproducing, then the benefits, the long term benefits for your ecosystem, your environment are remarkable,” said Department of Environment Research Officer Bradley Johnson.
He said it’s impossible to determine if the yellowfin grouper in the video were caught legally, but he told Cayman 27 legal or not, it’s an extreme example of unsustainable fishing.
“If this sort of removal from spawning sites, particularly, takes place. We’re going to end up in a situation where yellowfin will become an endangered species, if this kind of removal continues,” said Mr. Johnson.
Dr. Harvey said these yellowfin grouper and other SPAG spawing species need protection now, before it’s too late.
“Every year the grouper season comes and goes, and nothing has changed, nothing ever gets done legislatively until it’s too late,” said Dr. Harvey.
Dr. Harvey also suggested a five to ten year moratorium on the taking of all grouper, saying a complete grouper ban could help populations make a substantial recovery.