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Wednesday we received an exciting call from a local fishermen here in San Pedro. He had successfully caught a Goliath grouper (also called Jewfish, scientific name: Epinephelus itajara) and asked if we would like to collect samples. Of course we jumped at the opportunity! Ivy Baremore, our Technical Coordinator, collected tissue samples and pectoral fin clips, identified the sex, and extracted both otoliths (ear stones). Through closer inspection, we learned that the Goliath Grouper had several crabs for lunch, was a mature male, and had an interesting, but rather creepy, case of parasitic worms.
This new data will be integrated into our continuing study of Goliath grouper along the MesoAmerican Reef, most importantly as this species is red listed as Critically Endangered to Extinction and no viable spawning aggregation has yet been identified in the region (unlike Nassau grouper). We are keen to know if Belize and the region's population can rebound from its critically low numbers and feed into the region's burgeoning and highly lucrative big fish tourism, as is occurring in Jupiter, Florida. We already know that it's not safe to eat these large predators (http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm110591.htm). And previous research on methyl mercury levels in Goliath grouper conducted in Belize by MarAlliance suggests that mercury levels are high in animals larger than 55 cm TL, with many exceeding the US governmental advisory criteria for human health (Evers et al. 2009). You can download the manuscript here.
We cannot thank our fisher friends enough for reaching out to us. If you or anyone you know catches a Goliath grouper or finds one washed up on shore, please let us know by calling our office at 226-3399 or email us at [email protected]. You can help improve the knowledge of the status of our local fishes.