November 21, 2012
Bahamas National Trust officials said they are "gravely concerned" that the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources is even considering the possibility of extending the grouper season, citing the damage that such a move could have the fishing stocks for future seasons. Meeting in Rawson Square yesterday, BNT officials, led by the Trust’s President Neil McKinney said that throughout the Caribbean where grouper had once existed, the species has been fished to extinction leaving the Bahamas as one of the remaining few places in the world where grouper is still available.
“No spawning aggregation that has been fished to extinct has ever reestablished itself. We need to bare that in mind. Once we go over the precipice we can not reestablish it. Every year someone jumps up and says we need to lengthen the fishing season. They produce no evidence as to why that is sustainable. We have many, many scientific documents explaining that the grouper needs to be left alone like any other species they have to be allowed to reproduce and sustain a certain critical mass. Without that critical mass they will be lost to us,” Mr McKinney said.
Mr McKinney added that this has happened in the United States and in Bermuda where the grouper stock has been fished out. To date, he said, the Bahamas’ sock by some scientific estimates is down 99 per cent from where they were 20 years ago. “We are at the very, very critical threshold and it would be very foolish in our view and in the view of the scientists to start to fish these stocks. They desperately need to be able to regenerate so that we can start to have a sustainable mass.” The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation has also joined in to reject calls for the shortening of the groupers closed season.
They said they were supporting the annual season for grouper to run from December 1, this year to February 2 8, 2013 as the Bahamas is one of the last remaining strongholds for the Nassau grouper throughout its geographic range. Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, executive director of BREEF, said “The Nassau grouper is already commercially extinct in many neighbouring countries, and is recognised as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union. The closed season is critical to ensuring that future generations of Bahamians can enjoy this important fish.”
The BNT acknowledged the concerns expressed about weather related hardships that fishermen might be facing. It said it did not agree that a ‘short-term economic gain at the expense of spawning groupers would be worth the long term impact that would be wrought as a result.’ The Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, V Alfred Gray, has said that he would raise the issue of granting a 30-day extension to the grouper season with his Cabinet colleagues. This extension, he said, is being sought by the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA), which said the move would assist fishermen who had suffered losses due to unfavourable weather conditions as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Since news of this story broke, an online petition has been raised to call for the continued closure of the grouper season through the winter season. As of press time last night, the petition had 1,466 signatories.
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