SPAG's See Groupers!
The Nassau grouper is one of the larger fish to be found around coral reefs. It can be found from the shoreline to nearly one hundred (100) meters deep water. The Nassau grouper lives most notably along the coast of Belize. Normally solitary and territorial, Nassau groupers travel sometimes over great distances, and group together to spawn mostly around the full moons of December through February in groups that can contain upwards of several hundreds to thousands of individuals. A large number of these spawning aggregation sites have been recorded in different places throughout the Belizean coast. Historically, once discovered, grouper aggregation sites become synonymous with fishing aggregation sites.
The Belize Spawning Aggregation Working Group was established in July 2001 in response to a nation-wide survey of spawning aggregations of the Nassau grouper in early 2001 that revealed very low numbers of spawning fish. In early 2003, the Working Group was revitalized and has been meeting regularly on a bi-monthly basis to share data and develop management strategies. The main aim of this program is to keep stakeholders, particularly fishermen, informed of management progress and the results of the monitoring, to publicize the vulnerability of fish spawning aggregations and the conservation measures taken in Belize to preserve them through full protection of the sites and a closed season for the Nassau Grouper.
Eight sites are monitored as regularly as possible and include: Rocky Pt. (Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve), Dogflea Caye and Maugre Caye (Turneffe Islands), Sandbore (Lighthouse Reef), Emily/Caye Glory, Gladden Spit (Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve), Northeast Point (Glover's Reef Marine Reserve) and Nicholas Caye (Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve).The monitoring teams are guided by the Reef Fish Spawning Aggregation Monitoring Protocol for the Mesoamerican Reef and Wider Caribbean.
In their February monitoring, the ERI counted a maximum of one hundred and twenty four (124) groupers at the Maugre Caye SPAG site. This was recorded at about sixty feet (60) deep, fifty (50) feet above seafloor. Mapping of the aggregation area showed a total area of 10,368 m2.
Nassau Groupers are especially vulnerable to over fishing when it comes to their predictable behaviour during spawning. For fishermen familiar with these cycles this is the best time to catch this species as they just simply go to the aggregation site to fish them. This presents a major management challenge because the fish also takes a long time to reach maturity. If a large number of mature adults are fished from the population one year, it will take a long time before the population numbers can return to normal. These characteristics combined with the relatively strong demand for the delicious grouper fillet and roe eggs require that some measures need to be continuously taken to ensure the sustainability and preservation of these exquisite tasting fishes. This is why Belize declared the major Nassau grouper spawning sites as no-take marine reserves, to help these species and for our future generation.
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