The Cayman Island’s government is serious about protecting their grouper. The penalty for catching Nassau grouper in a spawning aggregation site during season is up to one year in prison or up to $500,000 in fines. That’s an expensive fish.
The spawning season is between November and March.
The strict laws are a result of an experiment of sorts to close spawning sites for a period of eight years – the time it takes for a grouper to reach reproductive maturity. The efforts were a collaboration between Dr. Guy Harvey, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), Oregon State University and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment.
“After 10 years, the detective work is finally done,” Dr. Harvey said. “It was the biggest spawn we’ve ever seen. With the right cooperation, the Nassau grouper will become a symbol of conservation for threatened marine species – a shining example of what can be achieved if all the stakeholders work together.”
Researchers visited the spawning area in Little Cayman in February to collect egg samples for genetic research and noted a marked increase in the number of groupers. Brice and Christy Semmens spearheaded the REEF research efforts. He believes that a healthy grouper population will seed local reefs surrounding the Cayman Islands and become the epicentre for the grouper’s recovery throughout the Caribbean.
“I think we’re going to see a dramatic response in terms of the number of new fish on the reefs for divers to see and fishermen to catch,” Mr. Semmens said. “The government officials made the correct and appropriate decisions based on science.”
The success of the grouper’s recovery and the plight of the endangered fish is the subject of Guy Harvey’s film, The Mystery of the Grouper Moon, edited by Emmy-Award winning producer George C. Schellenger.