The Jewfish, Epinephelus itajara, is facing the plight common to many fish species worldwide. This large, easy-to-catch fish is harvested commercially in Belize and the Caribbean despite the continually decreasing population. This fish is susceptible to over fishing pressures due to its slow growth rate, delayed maturation, and spawning aggregation characteristics. The Jewfish is listed on the IUCNís Red List of Endangered Species and is a candidate for the United States Endangered Species List. With continuing declines in populations, further information is necessary to accurately and responsibly protect this species. Jewfish have a large range of distribution encompassing the topical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The Jewfish is also observed in the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California to Peru. However, very few aggregations have been documented. Domeier and Colin (1997) reported observing an aggregations of Jewfish in Belize near English Caye sometime in the period between June and October. Beyond these limited reports, little research has been conducted on the local populations to assess their size and characteristics.
Project Objectives and Intended Results
The objectives of this project fall in line with the ever-constant need for additional base-line data in order to enact responsible management and protection of a species. The objectives of this project are to document the population and reproductive characteristics of the Jewfish in the northern portion of Belizeís waters. Beyond limiting access at two Marine Protected Areas (Gladden Spit and Gloverís Reef) there is currently no fisheries regulations that control fishing pressure at aggregation sites. Through documentation of the Jewfish aggregations and consultations with local fishermen, there is the opportunity to influence the management of this important fish species. Recommendations concerning the status of the Jewfish population will be presented in report form to the Belize Fisheries Department, which is the agency that is responsible for formulating policy and legislation concerning fishery stocks. Additionally, Green Reef is organizing a national symposium in July of this year which will target local fishermen, fishing cooperative members and policy makers to disseminate information regarding the status of the Nassau grouper fishery. This workshop will additionally provide an effective forum to share the results of the Jewfish survey.
Description of Project Activities
Local San Pedrano fishermen have reported that Jewfish have been found to reside in a series of cracks, fissures and sinkholes in the lagoon area between Belize City and Blackadore Caye. Consultations with fishermen will be conducted prior to field excursions to attempt to identify specific locations and gain estimates of population sizes at these sits. The habitat documentation portion of the project will consist of ten trips to these areas that have been identified by fishermen. Fishermen will accompany Green Reef staff to these locations and underwater photography will be utilized to record habitat characteristics, # of individuals and behavior.
Jewfish have historically aggregated in Belize to spawn during and immediately after the full moon in June (Sadovy and Eklund, 1999). A Jewfish aggregation site is reported by fishermen to be located in the vicinity of Goffís Caye but has never been recorded. Utilization of scuba and underwater video photography will allow Green Reef to document this spawning aggregation and obtain a count of actively reproducing Jewfish in the area. Dives will take place twice a day (at approximately 11:00 am and 4:00 pm) for a period of nine days, during and after the full moon in June. Catch per unit of effort data will also be gathered from fishermen in the area if they are harvesting from the Jewfish aggregation. Local fishermen will be employed to facilitate locating the aggregation site, assist with obtaining CPUE data and historical/anecdotal information.
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