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Feb 4, 2019

Nassau Grouper Critically Endangered

The Nassau Grouper is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Data recently published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature puts the Nassau Grouper as a critically endangered species in the region. In Belize, the Wildlife Conservation Society puts the population of the fish at Glover’s Reef Atoll at around four hundred, an alarming decline from the fifteen thousand recorded five years ago. The figures are alarming and scientists believe that if we don’t act now, the Nassau grouper will be extinct. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo takes a look at the primary threats to the fish and why it is important to save the species. 

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

The Nassau Grouper is now critically endangered, according to the new assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Averaging about twenty pounds in weight, this predatory fish lives on coral reefs and researchers say that reefs with Nassau groupers are found to be healthier than those without. But since 1980 the population of the Nassau Grouper in the region has drastically declined by eighty percent.

 

Alexander Tewfik

Alexander Tewfik, Senior Conservation Scientist, W.C.S.

“We would say that the historical sort of baseline that we had at Glover’s was fifteen thousand fish. So even in the last fifteen years, we have gone from fifteen thousand to now in the hundreds. So we have actually, potentially really hurt the potential for this species to propagate itself that we might have already gone below the minimum required.”

 

Nassau groupers reproduce between the months of December and March, known as the grouper’s spawning season. Mating occurs in only a few places like Glover’s Reef Atoll, one of thirteen known and protected spawning aggregation sites. But in 2018, the Wildlife Conservation Society recorded nine-hundred and twenty-five individual fish- an alarming decrease ‘from more than three thousand fish just five years prior and historic highs of fifteen thousand in the 1970s.’ A recent survey conducted in January puts the Nassau grouper population at Glover’s Reef Atoll at less than four hundred. The rapid decline of the fish can be attributed to three primary factors, loss of habitat, illegal fishing, and the primary threat, overfishing.

 

Victor Alamina

Victor Alamina, Technical Assistant, W.C.S.

“Historically, this site was known to have thousands of fish. It can be attributed to a lot of different things. One is the illegal fishing which we actually saw happening while approaching the site.”

 

Nicole Auil Gomez, Country Director, W.C.S.

“Looking at this case where we had a sighting of an illegal vessel which most likely it was not a Belizean vessel. By the description given by our expert on enforcement indicated that mostly it is not a Belize vessel and so this fish is not even being consumed in this country.”

 

Victor Alamina

“One of the easiest things to do is to catch something when it’s one area when it is concentration and this is exactly what these fish do in spawning aggregation. This is why it is called spawning aggregation because they are not a resident of the area. They move from one area coming to this side. So imagine this table and everything coming from all around it to just this one area. It makes it a lot easier to throw a line and actually get a fish. These people that come and fish at these sites know these historic sites.”

 

There are laws and regulations protecting the Nassau grouper. For example, the grouper’s spawning season is closed to fishermen, no fishing is allowed at the protected sites and there is a size regulation of a minimum of twenty inches to a maximum of thirty inches. According to WCS Country Director, Nicole Auil Gomez, Belize’s regulations need to be updated.

 

Nicole Auil Gomez

Nicole Auil Gomez

“We are using an old fisheries bill and the new fisheries bill is pending. This year will mark ten years since the commencement of trying to establish a new bill through a special task force that was established back in 2010. The bill has been updated. It has been peer reviewed. It *has been assessed by the FAO.  We would like to see how this bill which looks at new initiatives for Belize, sustainable livelihoods, the importance of fisheries to the people, Belizeans and looking at how the fisheries bill helps to manage the natural resources and not only fishery itself, this bull is a new and modern bill. It increases fees and therefore it increases deterrent to illegal fishing.”

 

But addressing this problem goes beyond regulations and deterrents. More boats in the sea are needed in order to enforce the regulations.

 

Ralna Lewis

Ralna Lewis, Assistant Country Director, W.C.S.

“Night fishing is a major issue in this area. Trans-boundary as well and if you do not have the correct vessels to go out then obviously you won’t be able to enforce the area. So regardless of the regulations that are in place you need to ensure that there are some types of surface asset out there, that there are people out there actively enforcing these areas. What we would like to see is that there is more investment obviously from the government of Belize. As well we want to see that collaboration occurring between Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras to ensure that these areas are enforced and that seasons are adhered to.”

 

Scientists believe that if the problem is not addressed in a timely and effective manner, the Nassau Grouper will be extinct sooner than we thought.

 

Alexander Tewfik

“The Nassau grouper is an iconic representative of our reefs here in Belize and throughout the Caribbean. If we see that species of fish being diminished we would feel that the entire, and we do have data that backs up other fish species and general health of the coral system. That is so important to not only Belize but the entire region, for livelihoods, tourism and coastal protection. All these systems are critical and I think the Nassau grouper, you can consider it the Canary in the coal mine.  It is really the animal, the fish that is representative of what is going on in the reef more generally and I think everybody in the country and region should be concerned.”

 

Hipolito Novelo, News Five.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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