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Famous Groupers in Peril

Groupers congregating at the Little Cayman spawning site.

Grouper Hole, the Nassau grouper spawning site off Little Cayman, continues to attract international attention from scientists, putting the Cayman Islands' conservation efforts firmly on the map.

The latest scientist to visit the spawning grounds is North American Underwater Scholar, Josh Stewart. He will be working with researchers from the Grouper Moon Project and will help with public education, outreach blogging and writing articles for international diving magazines.

"This is the last-known intact spawning mass of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean, and thus the world. All other aggregations, some of which may have exceeded 100,000 fish, have been systematically wiped out by fishing during the spawning period," Mr. Stewart noted in his first blog on the subject.

He continued: "Because of the Cayman Islands' forward-thinking conservation mindset, this particular spawning area has been protected for the better part of a decade."

However, despite its fame and ecological importance, protection for the region's last intact grouper spawning area is set to run out at the end of this year.

"Come December 2011, this invaluable protection will end unless government elects to renew current fishing bans.

Protecting Nassau grouper 'capital' by protecting the spawning aggregation ensures a healthy fish stock that will keep fishermen in business for years to come," Mr. Stewart concluded.

In fact the Department of Environment (DOE) has already called for an extension: "Lengthening the ban will ensure that our fisherman can continue to fish grouper into the future.

"For now, spawning numbers are dangerously low and without a ban, we could see the grouper disappear from our waters altogether in the next five years. It is not a ban on fishing grouper, it is just a ban on fishing them while they are spawning," explained DOE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

"Unrestricted fishing of grouper and their spawning aggregations in the waters off Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac has already brought those populations close to extinction. The same is true for the rest of the Caribbean which prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the Nassau grouper as endangered.

"The fact is, the Nassau grouper population off Little Cayman is likely the most plentiful anywhere in regional waters and therefore needs all the protection it can get," she emphasised.

The Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) is thought to be an ecological and economic cornerstone of Caribbean coral reefs. Since 2004, a seasonal fishing ban has been in effect in all designated grouper spawning areas around the Cayman Islands.

Bans in any of the designated grouper spawning areas run from November through March. Off Grand Cayman, these areas are located at Coxswain Bank, East End and South West Point's Sand Cay.

Around Cayman Brac and Little Cayman they are found at the east and west ends of the islands. The northeast and southwest ends of 12-Mile Bank are also protected.

To follow Josh Stewart's blog, go to http://owussnorthamerica.org/?p=753.

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver