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Jul 30, 2001

Efforts underway to rebuild grouper fishery

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It’s one of the best tasting fish in the sea and that, unfortunately, has been its undoing. Jacqueline Woods reports on efforts to preserve our once plentiful supply of grouper.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

In the early ’70s there was no shortage of the Nassau Grouper even though the fish was one of the most commercially sought marine species in the country. On a daily basis a fisherman could easily haul up from twenty-four to thirty-six groupers and earn over a thousand dollars a month for the catch. Today the fish catch is in decline and if not properly managed the Nassau Grouper could very become extinct in Belize.

Mito Paz, Executive Director, Green Reef

“Green Reef had just completed a national survey on the status of Nassau Groupers in Belize and we have known for years that fishermen visit aggregation sites and they use to catch thousands and thousands of Nassau Grouper at these specific sites in Belize and the fish has really declined over the years.”

One of the times the Grouper is most vulnerable is around the full moon during late December or early January. During this time fish from miles around converge at banks in great numbers to spawn, or lay their eggs. It is here they quickly fall prey to dozens of hooks or spear guns. The gun, which was first used in the early 80s is believed to be the tool contributing most to the grouper’s demise.

Omar Arceo, Tour Guide, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

“It was very effective, very powerful because it had different bands of rubber that you could use different measurements to shoot the spear about between ten to thirty feet so it was a very powerful weapon.”

The over fishing continued for a decade. By 1997, the Grouper could hardly be found and fishermen had to venture into deeper waters to make even a small catch. Today, the thirteen spawning sites located in Belize are either inactive or severely threatened.

Alfonso Nunez, Commercial fisherman

“When I started fishing Grouper at Caye Glory for a day I would catch about ninety to a hundred grouper. But right now you would go for a whole moon and you don’t even catch ten grouper. The last grouper season when we went fishing for Grouper at Caye Glory for like ten days we catch almost a dozen. Couple years a back you use to make two thousand dollars, a thousand dollars, five hundred dollars in like ten days.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Today what’d happening?”

Alfonso Nunez

“Today, like right now you, barely clear expense.”

To save the Nassau Grouper from extinction, Green Reef Environmental Institute in conjunction with the Belize Fisheries Department and other concerned parties met to formulate a plan of action. One proposal that’s being considered is having the sites designated as marine reserves.

Mito Paz

“This is one of the recommendation that will be made to turn those aggregation sites into marine protected areas and it makes total sense. If you want to manage fisheries, you want to protect the stock that is reproducing so will always have more fish.”

Alfonso Avilez, Assistant Fisheries Officer

“The laws would yes be needed, but not really much as to the fishing methods because you could make that simply on hand line but the most important laws would be the conservation laws close areas for the spawning sites and seasonal closure or complete closure.”

But any move to restrict access to Belize’s marine resources will have to get past opposition from local fishermen.

Jacqueline Woods

“Do you think fishermen down south will be open to whatever recommendations are made from this workshop?”

Alfonso Nunez

“Yes. Probably sit down and talk about. We must could get a solution to let everybody maintain this thing.”

And if to maintain this thing called the Nassau Grouper, we have to change our eating habits for a while. It may be worth it. Reporting Jacqueline Woods.

At the end of the workshop a Spawning Aggregation Committee was formed. The committee, which is represented by fishing co-operatives, scientific groups, NGOs and government organisations, will be responsible to look at the proposals formulated and draft a final document which will be presented to the Fisheries Advisory Board before being presented to government for legislative action.

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