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Today's Date: 22 November 2014
Last Updated: 21 November 2014 14:37:59 EST
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Grouper ban 
spawns discontent

Fishing for Nassau Groupers in spawning holes is still forbidden in the Cayman Islands.  Photo: Guy Harvey

East End fishermen are angry after a meeting with environmental officials revealed that it might be another eight years before they can fish Coxswain Bank – a breeding ground for groupers.

The eight-year ban on fishing Nassau Grouper breeding grounds was first considered in 2003 and scheduled to come to an end this year.

Fuming fishermen dominated the recent meeting despite attempts by Department of Environment officials to keep order.

“What I know is, this is going to cause problems,” said Gary Rankine when contacted by the Compass days after the meeting. “This is taking food from our mouths. I don’t see what is so wrong with them telling us six groupers per boat and then leave. We can get a few conch, a few lobsters and a few whelks, so what is wrong with a few groupers?”

The fishermen said DoE officials did not tell them they could not catch groupers. Instead, they were told to go somewhere else to catch them but they could not take them from the breeding grounds.

“We abided by the law; now they are telling us there may be another eight-year ban instead of saying you can catch a few. That is just not right,” said Huswell Rankine. “We give and we take, but people are getting enough of it.”

The ban was put in place to give the groupers the chance to multiply and to preserve the species for future generations because over-fished breeding grounds showed a steady decline in the grouper population, said DoE research officer Bradley Johnson.

“From the day I was born, I came and found the groupers there and they have never slacked down. They say it’s only 5,000 groupers; how they know that? I know there will be a lot of trouble in East End. They have stopped everything else, now they are telling us we cannot get a piece of fish,” said Jerlow Rankine.

“Caymanians have been fishing these waters for years. Back in the day they would come in with hundreds of groupers. I remember back then they killed turtles on the beach and no one had anything to say; now there is a ban on turtles, lobster, conch, whelks and now grouper. What else are they going to ban? It is just not right,” he added.

It’s still being determined whether the ban will be lifted after 2011. Groupers can be caught outside designated spawning areas as long as they are at least 12 inches long. Fishermen can be prosecuted for taking groupers from the spawning holes, according to the Marine Conservation Law, and face a maximum penalty of $500 and one year in jail. Upon conviction, forfeiture of vessel or other equipment may also be ordered.

The exact fine amount and-or jail term is left to the discretion of the judge.

The meeting was held to educate fishermen about groupers, their habitat and research findings.

According to Mr. Johnson, the grouper ban happened in two parts; when two fishermen from Little Cayman and Cayman Brac discovered a new spawning site for Nassau Grouper on the west end of Little Cayman and removed 1,200 fish. Other fishermen removed 800 more before the fish had spawned and moved on.

The second occurred in 2002 when DoE, along with Reef Environmental Education Foundation, did a dive survey on Little Cayman’s west end site and gathered information from Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman to assess how many fish were still there and how the population had changed. Approximately 2,000 fish had been taken, which brought the total fish removed to just less than 4,000 in two years of fishing.

In 2003 an assessment was carried out and if fishing had occurred in 2004, the spawning population would have been decimated. That was when the Conservation Board banned fishing on designated spawning sites for eight years, said Mr. Johnson.

“We believe there are fewer fish in the Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac population. The fish that do show up are expecting more fish to come and so are waiting longer for a buildup of numbers in order to maximise their reproductive potential,” he said.

“Sixteen years, come on DoE. It has been quite a while that we have not gotten any groupers. At least give us a chance to go out there. We know when groupers are spawning. We know when they stay on the bank. We are born East Enders; Coxswain Bank is right in East End. We know when they are there. Just give us the chance to go out there and get six per boat. Just don’t tell us we can’t go out there and catch none,” said Gary Rankine, who grew up catching groupers at Coxswain Bank with his father. “It is our tradition and way of life, don’t take that away from us.”

Another meeting is planned for East End once DoE has a proposal to discuss a way forward.

Cayman Grouper history

Groupers

rely on the reef coral for shelter, protection and food. Groupers, which migrate to Coxswain Bank and other spawning areas, live on the reefs around Cayman for the rest of the year.

Protecting spawning grounds results in more groupers and ensures groupers for future generations.

Spawning for the groupers usually occurs around full moons in January, February and sometimes March. They usually leave about 10 days after showing up at spawning grounds. In the case of depleted populations, they usually stay two to three times longer.

Groupers take up to eight years to become sexually mature.

Groupers are territorial and maintain the same home range throughout the year.

Research and monitoring is being carried out by the DoE on spawning sites to count the amount of fish that come, to see where eggs are being distributed and have technical divers explore deeper areas of the site.

DoE began monitoring breeding grounds in 1987. Data from all three Islands shows a steady decline in all measurements taken.

Spawning areas are on Little Cayman’s west and east ends; Cayman Brac, east end; Grand Cayman, south west point, Coxswain Bank East End and on 12 Mile Bank, northeast and southwest ends.

Anyone wishing to report violations of the Marine Conservation Law may do so confidentially to the DOE at 949-8469, Marine Enforcement Supervisor Mark Orr at 916-4271, or Emergency 911.

 
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