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Shooting fish in a barrel: overfishing video prompts calls for closed grouper season

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“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.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to josephavary@hurleysmedia.ky

1 Comment

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  • Guy Harvey is spot on when he says that we should have a moratorium on all species of reef groupers (and I’ll add…until their populations can recover). Think about your children’s children and the challenges that they will face when our population is quadruple what it is today (and still growing). We must become sustainable in everything we do, including utilization of marine resources, or there will be grave consequences for our progeny.

    Over $100 million is spent each year by divers coming to see our “Sea World of the Caribbean”, but we are selling the fish right out of our aquarium. We’re seriously affecting our future by over-fishing the reef. Remember what we did to the Turtles that were once so plentiful? Say YES PLEASE to all of the recommendations that the DOE makes and we can see tourism growth instead of decline. At the same time we can ensure that low income Caymanians will always be able to catch dinner. This will never be true if we fail now. It takes fish to make fish. Once they’re gone it’s all over.

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