Groupers, a family of fishes often found in coral reefs and prizedfor their quality of flesh, are facing critical threats to theirsurvival. As part of the International Union for Conservation ofNature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, a team of scientists hasspent the past ten years assessing the status of 163 grouperspecies worldwide. They report that 20 species (12%) are at risk of extinction ifcurrent overfishing trends continue, and an additional 22 species(13%) are Near Threatened. These findings were published online onApril 28 in the journal Fish and Fisheries. |
"Fish are one of the last animal resources commercially harvestedfrom the wild by humans, and groupers are among the most desirablefishes," said Dr. Luiz Rocha, Curator of Ichthyology at theCalifornia Academy of Sciences, and one of the paper's authors. "Unfortunately, the false perception that marine resources areinfinite is still common in our society, and in order to preservegroupers and other marine resources we need to reverse this oldmentality." The team estimates that at least 90,000,000 groupers were capturedin 2009. This represents more than 275,000 metric tonnes of fish,an increase of 25% from 1999, and 1600% greater than 1950 figures.The Caribbean Sea, coastal Brazil, and Southeast Asia are home to adisproportionately high number of the 20 Threatened grouperspecies. (A species is considered "Threatened" if it is CriticallyEndangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable under IUCN criteria.) Groupers are among the highest priced market reef species(estimated to be a multi-billion dollar per year industry), arehighly regarded for the quality of their flesh, and are often amongthe first reef fishes to be overexploited.
Their disappearance fromcoral reefs could upset the ecological balance of these threatenedecosystems, since they are ubiquitous predators and may play alarge role in controlling the abundance of animals farther down thefood chain. Unfortunately, groupers take many years (typically 5-10) to becomesexually mature, making them vulnerable for a relatively long timebefore they can reproduce and replenish their populations. In addition, fisheries have exploited their natural behavior ofgathering in great numbers during the breeding season. Thescientists also conclude that grouper farming (mariculture) has notmitigated overfishing in the wild.
Although the prognosis is poor for the restoration and successfulconservation of Threatened grouper species, the authors dorecommend some courses of action, including optimizing the size andlocation of Marine Protected Areas, minimum size limits forindividual fish, quotas on the amount of catch, limits on thenumber of fishers, and seasonal protection during the breedingseason. However, the scientists stress that "community awareness andacceptance, and effective enforcement are paramount" for successfulimplementation, as well as "action at the consumer end of thesupply chain by empowering customers to make better seafoodchoices." These findings are posted online here .
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