Endangered Nassau grouper in the Caymans will live to spawn another generation

Endangered Nassau grouper in the Caymans will live to spawn another generation: an 11th hour ruling by the Marine Conservation Board preserves the existing protections at spawning sites
RELEASE DATE
12/17/2011
CONTACT
Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. christy@reef.org 305-852-0030

The seasonal fishing ban on endangered Nassau grouper spawning aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands, which was set to expire at the end of this month, has been extended for another eight years. The protections, which were initially enacted in 2003 and included an 8-year sunset clause, prohibit fishing for the species at spawning aggregation sites between November and March (the reproductive season). REEF has been working closely with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DoE) since 2001 as part of the Grouper Moon Project to study Nassau grouper aggregations in the Cayman Islands and to determine how to best protect this iconic Caribbean reef species. Our research has focused on the west end aggregation site on Little Cayman, which supports one of the last great reproductive populations of this endangered species.

Normally solitary and territorial, during the winter full moons Nassau grouper travel and group together to spawn. Due to the reliable timing and location of the spawning aggregations, plus the ease with which these relative loners can be caught while congregating by the hundreds and thousands to spawn, most known Caribbean aggregation sites have been fished to exhaustion. The ground-breaking research conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project by scientists and volunteers from REEF, the DoE, and Oregon State University, led the DoE to recommend a set of actions necessary to recover and protect the species throughout the Cayman Islands. Actions include: implementing a closed season for Nassau grouper in all Cayman waters from November through March, permanently closing the aggregation sites to fishing year round (because these special places host aggregations of dozens of species throughout the year), and modifying existing catch limits for the species during other times of the year. The Cayman Islands Cabinet is currently reviewing these recommendations. While all those involved in the Grouper Moon Project are pleased that the Marine Conservation Board was able to take action prior to the expiration of the current ban, we are hopeful that Cabinet will enact permanent protections to ensure that there are Nassau grouper on coral reefs for generations to come.

REEF is extremely proud of our involvement in the Grouper Moon Project and we look forward to similar conservation victories in the years to come. Lessons learned in the Cayman Islands have benefited Nassau grouper conservation efforts throughout the Caribbean. We greatly appreciate all our members who have contributed financially to REEF to make this important work possible. If you haven't yet donated during our Winter Fundraising Campaign, please consider making a generous gift to help REEF continue programs like the Grouper Moon Project.

To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit http://www.reef.org/groupermoonproject. And be sure to watch this wonderful PSA . The Grouper Moon Project is a collaboration between Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment. It has been supported in part by the Lenfest Ocean Program, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the NOAA International Coral Reef Conservation Program, Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort, Peter Hillenbrand, and REEF member contributions.

Over 4,000 Nassau grouper spawn at the aggregation site on Little Cayman.: Photo by Phil Bush.Over 4,000 Nassau grouper spawn at the aggregation site on Little Cayman.: Photo by Phil Bush.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub