Although they aren't seen as often on the reef as they used to be, it's hard to mistake the Jewfish, Epinephelus itajara, for anything else when you do see one. Their large size, grouper-shaped body and scattering of darks spots over a light colored body make the Jewfish a very distinctive fish. These massive creatures can reach lengths of up to eight feet and weigh more than 700 pounds. The jewfish is accepted to be the largest reef fish in the Caribbean and also one that has faced heavy fishing pressure over most of its range.

In addition to being sighted on the reef, this fish is often found inhabiting small holes and cracks in the shallow lagoon to the back of Ambergris Caye. This type of habitat provides protection for these large animals, which feed on a variety of organisms ranging from spiny lobster, stingray, spiny puffers, crabs, octopuses and even small sea turtles. Jewfish are thought to reproduce in aggregations at specific locations during the full moon periods of the summer months.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
This top-level predator is important both ecologically and also to the many fishermen who target this fish with their lines. As part of our continued work to understand more about spawning aggregations and fish species that are important to the fishermen of Belize, Green Reef has been investigating the habitat of the jewfish surrounding Ambergris Caye. This week we hope to locate and document the location of a spawning aggregation thought to form south of San Pedro.

Fishermen and local divers have been working in cooperation with Green Reef to identify both the habitat and aggregation site in order to document the population with video. The first step in sustainably managing any species is understanding more about the current status of the population and the habitat and conditions necessary for successful reproduction and recruitment. Green Reef hopes that the information gained from this project will be used to ensure that the jewfish populations are kept at a level where the species can be maintained sustainably.

If you're interested in knowing more about this or other projects that Green Reef is conducting, please contact us at our office on the campus of St. Matthew's University at 026-3254 ext 243 or email at [email protected].

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