|Nassau Groupers enhance
the underwater beauty of Belize - photo by Joe Miller
Every year, during the full moons of
December and January, thousands of Nassau Grouper come together to spawn.
Fishing during this time is so popular in Belize that it has diminished both the
size and numbers of these fish.
Green Reef has put a plan in motion to quantify the problem through observation
of the aggregations, and measuring and weighing of fish actually caught. It was
my pleasure to be selected to go along as a photographer and observer to aid in
documenting this endeavor.
Seven different expeditions traveled to the
best-known grouper spots in Belize to monitor fishing activity. Our expedition
was led by Mito Paz, local director of Green Reef. A valuable volunteer was Dan
Ellison, who also works for Green Reef. Dan Wagner, a well-known underwater
videographer from Florida and I made up the photo crew. Our expedition left for
Rendezvous Point on Turneffe Atoll on the morning of January 8 in the 25 foot
skiff, "Ceci," piloted by Captain Victor Lara. We set up our dive and scientific
camp adjacent to the fishing camp at Rendezvous. This gave us convenient access
to the dive site as well as the ability to measure and weigh the daily grouper
The stories I had heard over the years
had piqued my interest in making this journey. Old-timers had told me of
thousands of Nassau Groupers in giant columns many feet deep, the females
releasing their eggs into the water as the males converged to fertilize
them. I was soon disappointed. The large numbers are not there. The Nassau
Grouper population is not only diminished from all accounts; it's only a tiny
fraction of what it used to be. The cause is fishing during the spawning season.
Commercial fishermen know that when these masses of fish flesh come together,
there is no better time to snag them for re-sale. Our group saw small gatherings
of fish, 4-8 at the most. There were a few exceptions where we saw maybe 10 or
12, but those sightings were rare.
especially rewarded with their catch this time of year. The fertile females
contain sacks of roe, or eggs, that sell for $6-8 per pound. The rest of the
fish sell in the market in Belize City for $2 per pound. The average daily catch
this year seemed to be about 300 pounds of fish with maybe 15-20 pounds of roe.
In effect, fishermen are rewarded not only for depleting the resources during a
vulnerable time, but for cashing in on the future, as well. No eggs to
fertilize...no fish next year.
We Belizeans, both born and
naturalized, fully understand the value of a season for conch and lobster to
allow them to reproduce. Heavy fines are levied against those who take from our
future. Raise up your voices to help Green Reef lobby to put in a season for
Nassau Grouper. Surely we can work together to sustain this vital part our
fragile ecosystem-which brings in tourism dollars-while reaching a compromise
with the fishing industry.
Thanks to Amigos del Mar,
Offshore Express and Turneffe Flats for logistical, transportation and emergency