December 01, 2009
The Nassau Grouper is a large predatory fish inhabiting coral reefs throughout the tropical western Atlantic, including the Caribbean Sea. Around the world, tropical marine fishery species such as groupers are being overfished, with devastating ecological and economic consequences to coral reefs. Experts believe that preventing these harmful effects requires management measures based on the best available information about these stocks, and the causes and consequences of overfishing them. That is why in Belize, a special regulation went into effect today with the closure of the Nassau Grouper season. According to the Acting Fisheries Administrator George Myvette, Junior, from now until the end of March of next year, only people with special permission from the Fisheries Department will be allowed to catch Nassau Grouper in Belizean waters. George Myvette Junior; Fisheries Administrator "Today also marks a special measure in which we allow fishers to target two of twelve spawning sights. These fishes aggregate to spawn and we have had to put in place some conservation measures that include closing ten of the twelve banks and actually the two that we have open can only be fished under special licenses issued by the Fisheries Administrator." Patrick Jones, Reporter What does that license cover? George Myvette Junior; Fisheries Administrator "The license authorizes the holder of fish one of the both of the banks and basically what it does is it is excludes people who would not have that special license from fishing. Those people to whom the license is normally granted would be the traditional fishers of that particular area. A person who, for example, is fishing in Glovers Reef would not be able to fish in Northern Two Caye which marks one of the banks that is open for fishing. The other bank is of course Maga Caye so the traditional fishers would have the privilege to fish." Myvette says that because of the serious strain on the Nassau Grouper population in Belizean waters, the Fisheries Department will be vigorously enforcing the new measure George Myvette Junior; Fisheries Administrator "Well there is a requirement for those people to fishers to land the Nassau Grouper whole. Fishers will generally land fish either whole or filleted by the time it reaches the market. We insist that the grouper is landed whole so that we can measure the grouper to make sure that it fits the legal size. Generally speaking the upper size limit is 30 centimeter. If you have a grouper that is larger than 30 cm it is illegal. The lower size limit is 20 centimeter so if you catch a grouper that is less than 20 cm it is also illegal. The legal size for the Nassau Groupers is really between 20 and 30 centimeters." Patrick Jones, Reporter This is the first time that this measure is put in place, what do you hope to be the eventual outcome? George Myvette Junior; Fisheries Administrator "It is a permanent law and essentially what we hope is for the species to be conserved. I should mention that throughout the Caribbean there has been an experience where these fishes have been fished in some instances to extinction and one mark of how well these populations are doing are really these spawning aggregation so we want to make sure that these spawning sites remain viable because in a sense they do not only feed into the fishes for the Belizean fishery but also for the larger Caribbean." Things are not looking good for the Nassau Grouper and appeals to the general public to help in this important work of conservation. George Myvette Junior; Fisheries Administrator "Given the experience that we have seen in the spawning sites we believe that the prognosis is not so good. We have had to close ten of the twelve banks. One of the largest banks rely was Caye Glory which in the 60's fishers used to harvest thousands of pounds of fishes from Caye Glory. That spawning site is now closed and it is an indicator that the species is not doing so well." Patrick Jones, Reporter The season runs until the 31st of March next year; if anybody is found contravening the law what happens? George Myvette Junior; Fisheries Administrator "There is a conviction fine of five hundred dollars and there is also jail time that goes with conviction for Nassau Grouper. One of the things we want to do is to appeal to the buying public that really you should only buy Nassau Grouper from those people who have special license. We are asking the public to make sure that the person you are buying from has this license that says that you are specially authorized to fish Grouper. If it is a whole fish we are asking the public to cooperate because only with public buy in can we be as successful as we want to be in terms of conservation." George Myvette, Junior, the Acting Fisheries Administrator. Nassau Groupers are generally identified by four to five irregular dark stripes on pale tan or gray body, black dots around their eyes, a large black saddle patch on their tail and a wide "tuning-fork" pattern on their forehead. They grow to lengths of approximately three feet and weigh around 55 pounds.