NASSAU GROUPER: ENDANGERED… AND PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

NASSAU GROUPER: ENDANGERED… AND PROTECTED

Most creatures need some space for creative activity of one sort or another. Especially one particular sort, namely breeding. And for vulnerable and endangered species, this is especially important in order to maintain a sustainable population, and preferably to increase it year on year. Which is why there are closed seasons for certain fish, ensuring a time when they can be left alone to breed in peace and to perpetuate their species.

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is just one of a number of grouper species that inhabit Bahamian waters. They are mostly found in the Northern Bahamas but only the Nassau grouper is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species in need of protection.

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

WHY ARE THESE FINE FISH ENDANGERED?

Sad to say, mankind is the main cause of the population fragility that has led to the official listing, and the imposition of a strict closed season for 3 months between December 1st and February 28th. Scientific studies have shown that commercial overfishing has reduced a thriving population to fewer than 10,000 mature fish. That may sound plenty to be going on with… until you consider that a net annual loss of only 10% would lead to extinction in a decade.

Nassau Grouper Infographic (Royal Defence Force)

10 CONVENIENTLY COLLECTED NASSAU GROUPER FACTS TO PONDER

  • An adult can grow to more than a metre long, and weigh 25 kg
  • They tend to be solitary daytime feeders, eating small fish & crustaceans
  • Their large mouths are use to ‘inhale’ or suck in prey
  • The colouring of an individual can vary from red to brown
  • These fish have little black spots around the eyes (I’ve no idea why).
  • Their habitat is in the vicinity of coral reefs, from shallows to 100 m deep
  • Spawning occurs in Dec & Jan during a full moon
  • Large numbers gather in a single location to mate in a mass spawning
  • These groupers are slow breeders, which compounds the overfishing problem
  • They are easy mass targets at spawning time; hence the need for a closed season

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

Department of Fisheries information sheet (interesting if you have the time)

A Nassau Grouper glumly contemplates the possibility of extinctionNassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

BLACK GROUPER

TIGER GROUPER

RED HIND

NASSAU GROUPER 1

CLEANING STATIONS

Nassau Grouper (Melinda Riger / . Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger; Infographic by Royal Defence Force (tip o’ the  hat to Char Albury); Info Sheet, Dept of Fisheries

JAW-DROPPING: A GROUP OF GROUPER(S)


Grouper at cleaning station - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

JAW-DROPPING: A GROUP OF GROUPER(S)

Today is going to be about Jaws – not those sinister-music-sharky types, but a look at the dentition, gill arrangements and oral hygiene of groupers(s). First, though, the vexed question of the correct plural for a group of these fish. I tackled the complex 3-option correct plural of OCTOPUS a while back. Now another problem piscine plural has cropped up.

Tiger Grouper - Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaThe short answer is that the plural is usually ‘groupers’, but also – perhaps less commonly – ‘grouper’ (there’s a similar situation with plural of ‘hare’). One online source suggests ‘grouperer’, but that just seems cumbersome. I think there may be a useful distinction to be made here. When talking about grouper of the same species, one could say “I saw 17 Nassau grouper today”. But where reference is made to mixed species, “I saw plenty of groupers today” implies that there was more than one species – black and tiger, maybe. 

Grouper at cleaning station - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Grouper - Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

In some of these photos you’ll notice tiny fish attending to the grouper. These are CLEANERS and they are an essential part of the bodily and oral hygiene routine for larger fish species. The big fish call in at so-called CLEANING STATIONS, where the tiddlers remove parasites and dead skin, and polish up the gills. They will even enter the fish’s mouth to pick bits from between its teeth – the deal being that they will not be eaten. This mutually beneficial arrangement is called ‘cleaning symbiosis’ and is carried out by (for example) gobies, wrasses and cleaner shrimps.

Peterson’s cleaner shrimps and cleaner wrasseGrouper with Peterson's cleaner shrimps and wrasse - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Some of these photos show groupers with open gills as well as open mouths, an invitation to the cleaners to do their work. I’d intended to write about how and why gills work but I’ve thought better of it. There’s a lot of detail about chemical exchange involved that, when I looked more closely, seemed rather dull… and therefore outside the remit of this blog, which includes trying to avoid ‘dull’. If you really want to know more, Wiki has a good article HERE. Good luck with that….

Grouper - Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Credits: All photos Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper ed ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba 2

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER

The Black Grouper is a large fish of the reefs found in the western Atlantic, particularly in the waters of Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a solitary species that mostly prefers the shallow waters around coral reefs.

Black Grouper ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. They have the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. 

Black Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS Here are examples of two black groupers receiving attention at the same cleaning station. Both also seem to be giving a ride to REMORAS.

Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Note that this fish has an embedded hook and is trailing a line – one that ‘got away’Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Despite the name, black groupers are not all black. They have many shades from dark to olive-coloured to pale. I believe the two photos below are of a grouper known as Arthur, a favourite with divers and definitely off the menu… Black Grouper  ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaBlack Grouper 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The tiny bright blue fish in the photo above are Blue Chromis, a regular accompaniment on any snorkel or dive on a reef. I like the colourful little Fairy Basslet in the next photoBlack Grouper © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Now that the NASSAU GROUPER has been awarded a closed season to help maintain numbers, it will be interesting to see if the winter fishing ban is extended to the Black Grouper…

Black Grouper (Arthur) ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

Credits: all photos Virginia Cooper and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba 

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is one of a number of Caribbean grouper species found generally in the Northern Bahamas and specifically in Abaco waters. Others include the Black, Tiger, and Yellowfin groupers, the Red Hind,and the Graysby. The Nassau grouper is special, however, not least because (unlike the others) it is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species and is also a US National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern. It is considered the most important of the groupers for commercial fishing in the Caribbean, and the IUCN listing data suggests that a population decline of 60% occurred over the last three generations (27-30 years), a startling rate. The current population size is estimated at >10,000 mature individuals.

Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

The Nassau Grouper is a creature of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and adjacent seas, though it can also be found in deep water. It feeds in the daytime on small fish and small crustaceans such as shrimps, crabs and lobsters. It lurks in caves and recesses in the reef, sucking in the prey that passes unsuspecting by. The coloration of an individual fish may vary considerably with conditions, and it can adapt its colour to its surroundings as camouflage.  

Tiger grouper meets Nassau grouperNassau & Tiger Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba  copy

Spawning takes place in December and January as the seawater cools, always at full moon, and always in the same place. In the moonlight, huge numbers of the grouper gather together to mate in a mass spawning aggregation. This may continue for several days. However, the species is slow breeder, which is why overfishing is particularly damaging to the population as the depleted stock cannot readily be replaced.

3846_aquaimages Wiki

CONSERVATION ISSUES

There are other besides factors commercial overfishing that make the Nassau grouper so vulnerable, including fishing during the breeding season; taking undersized fish; pollution and reef decline; habitat loss; and invasive species. The spawning areas are especially vulnerable to exploitation. In the Bahamas, as elsewhere,  the government has now instituted a closed fishing season for the Nassau grouper. Here is the BREEF  flyer, just circulated – and in fact the reason for this post, which reminded me that I had planned to write about this fish! 10382222_10152869346685953_7443797899832698038_o

THREATS

The Bahamas National Trust sums up the multiple threats in this uncompromising way:

Nassau grouper is eaten by barracudas, lizard fish, dolphins, sharks and other large predators of the reef community. But the predators that have the biggest impact on the grouper population are humansPeople are fishing groupers before they can grow to maturity and reproduce. Sex change may also cause a problem. In undisturbed areas there are usually equal numbers of male and females. In heavily fished areas there are often three or more times more females than males. This means many eggs will not be fertilized during spawning. Other threats include, habitat destruction, coral breakage from divers, siltation from construction, runoff from logging and agriculture, dredging, sewage, oil spills and other contaminants that harm coral reefs where Nassau Groupers live.

grouperEpinephelus_striatus_2

There’s an extent to which a country can be judged on its attitude to wildlife from the stamps it chooses to issue. It’s something to do with appreciation and promotion of the country’s natural resources. For example, North Korea rates nil in this respect, with stamps involving scary weaponry, flags, marching and eerily glowing leaders – not a single sparrow to be seen.  By fortunate contrast the Bahamas and its Postal Service score very highly in celebrating the diversity of the wildlife of the islands. The Nassau Grouper was first featured on Bahamas stamps as long ago as 1971, some 25 years before the IUCN Red Listing, and probably before the sharp decline in population numbers had even begun.

bahamas-1971-nassau-grouper-sg-363-fine-used-19448-p

In 2012 the Bahamas Postal Service released ‘a new definitive 16 stamp series’ depicting the marine life of The Bahamas. The Nassau has been promoted from 5c in 1971 to 70c in 2012. That’s inflation for you.

bahamas-marine-life-stamps2

Finally in 2013 BREEF’s 20 years of marine conservation was commemorated with a distinguished and colourful set of 8 stamps, noting in their release: ‘Two of the new stamps feature the Nassau Grouper, a now endangered species that has experienced severe population decline throughout the region… BREEF is well known as an advocate for an annual closed season for the iconic Nassau Grouper during its winter breeding period. The push for the closed season was based on scientific evidence of population collapses throughout the region due to overfishing. BREEF is calling on the government to implement a fixed closed season for the Nassau Grouper in order to protect the species and the fishing industry. The closed season traditionally runs during the spawning season from December 1st until February 28th, to allow the fish to reproduce.  BREEF is calling urgently for the announcement of this year’s Nassau Grouper closed season….’ And so it came to pass… Not only is the Nassau grouper now worth 2 x 65c; it is strictly protected for 3 months during its breeding season. Maybe philately even had a hand in getting somewhere…

BREEF_Comemorative_stamps_PastedGraphic-3

Nassau Grouper (Rick Smit wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger, Rick Smit, Open Source, BNT, BREEF, Wikimedia, Bahamas Postal Service