November 21, 2012
Adding another month to grouper season would directly place the future of the species in jeopardy, said Bahamas National Trust (BNT) President Neil McKinney yesterday. He was responding to the request put to government by the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance, which said its members lost money when they were unable to fish during Hurricane Sandy. Grouper season is closed from December 1 to February 28 when spawning mainly takes place. Members of the Alliance have sent a letter to Agriculture and Fisheries Minister V. Alfred Gray requesting that the season close January 1 to allow them to recoup lost profits.
But members of environmental groups, the BNT included, who have called for legislation mandating a permanent closed season with fixed dates are opposed to the request. "Throughout the Caribbean where there have been grouper spawning aggregations they have all been fished to extinction," said McKinney at a press conference. "We are one of the few remaining places in the world where grouper is still available. No spawning aggregation that has been fished to extinction has ever reestablished itself, and we need to bear that in mind.
"Once we go over the precipice we can not reestablish it." McKinney said no evidence has been provided to support the substantiality of lengthening the grouper season. He said commercial extinction has happened in the United States and Bermuda, and by some scientific estimates grouper stocks in The Bahamas are down over 95 percent from where they were 20 years ago. The BNT president said there is more that meets the eye with the current season. "Right now when we have an open season on stocks we say, 'it's open season, catch all you can catch', [but] this is not proper management," McKinney said.
"In the rest of the world when they have an open season, they say there is a certain biomass down there and you can catch a certain percentage of it and once that percentage is caught then the season is closed because you know you have taken all that can be sustained." Executive Director of the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) Casuarina McKinney-Lambert noted that the species has a very slow growth rate.
She claimed it takes seven years for grouper to reach maturity. She said the closed season is having notable effect in South Eleuthera based on studies comparing species prevalence from 2005 to 2011. BNT Executive Director Eric Carey said fully legislated protection of the species is a must. He said fishermen could likely use a leg-up financially, but argued that lengthening the season is not a long-term solution. "We understand fishermen have it hard, but to try and get a short-term gain there will be [no] fisher-folk of tomorrow fishing this species if we wipe it out today," he said. Gray, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, is expected to make an announcement on the matter in the House of Assembly today.
Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian