According to a report published in the journal Fish and Fisheries, approximately one-fourth of the world’s groupers are being fished to extinction. The report says an estimated 90 million were captured in 2009, an increase of 25 percent from 1999 figures. The research, led by Dr. Luiz Rocha, Curator of Ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences, was conducted over the last 10 years and determined the status of 163 species of grouper around the world. According to the study, 20 grouper species are at risk of extinction if overfishing trends continue unabated. Most of the 20 threatened grouper species are located in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Brazil and in all areas of Southeast Asia.
“Fish are one of the last animal resources commercially harvested from the wild by humans, and groupers are among the most desirable fishes,” Dr. Luiz Rocha said in a press release put out by the academy. “Unfortunately, the false perception that marine resources are infinite is still common in our society, and in order to preserve groupers and other marine resources, we need to reverse this old mentality.”
Because groupers are at the top of the reef ecosystem, their demise on the reef can have catastrophic effects all the way down the ecological chain of a reef. The prognosis for recovery of certain groupers is poor due to their importance in controlling other reef fish species and because of the long time it takes for them to reach sexual maturity (5 to 10 years). Recommendations include extending the size and location of marine protected areas, limiting the amount and size of grouper that can be taken commercially, limiting the number of fishers and creating seasonal protections during breeding season (this is when the vast majority of groupers are taken because of their schooling behavior at breeding time). In addition to these recommendations, the authors of the study say that communities need to be informed of the importance of the grouper species, and action must be taken at the local level to promote and ensure compliance with any laws that may be implemented. Consumers at the end of the supply chain must also be informed to make educated seafood choices.