The Nassau Grouper is one of the largest and most fished amongst the grouper family in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. The large predatory fish inhabiting coral reefs are now being overfished. Because of being overfished, experts say it may lead to devastating ecological and economic consequences if proper legislation for the protection of grouper specie is not enforced. For that reason, the Government of Belize through the Fisheries Department introduced a special regulation that came into effect on December 1st which is intended, for the most part; to protect the Nassau Grouper in Belizean waters.
The special regulation introduces strict measures that indicate who can fish, the specific areas grouper are allowed to be fished at, the specific sizes and the season grouper can be catch. According to the Fisheries Department, grouper can only be caught from December 1st to the 31st of March in two specific areas. The Fisheries Department announced that from the 12 spawning areas, fisherfolks with special license can only fish in two areas; Northern Two Caye at Lighthouse Reef and Mauger Caye at Turneffe Islands. That special license will be granted by the Fisheries Department to fisherfolks who are traditional fishers of each particular area.
This new legislation which the Belize Fisheries Department has enacted includes important grazers such as those in the Scaridae (Parrot Fish) and Acanthuridae (Surgeon Fish) family into legislative protection.
The legislation states that:
1. No person shall take in the waters of Belize, or buy, sell or have in his possession, any Nassau grouper form the 1st December and the 31st March inclusive in any year.
2. No person shall take in the waters of Belize, or buy, sell or have in his possession, any Nassau grouper which is less than 20 inches in total length or greater than 30 inches in total length.
3. Every Nassau grouper caught in the waters of Belize shall be landed whole.
4. Every fish, other than the Nassau Grouper and the grazers, caught in the waters of Belize landed as fillet fish shall have a skin patch of two inches by 1 inch.
5. No person shall take in the waters of Belize, or buy, sell or have in possession any grazers.
6. A person who contravenes any of these regulations is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to both a fine and imprisonment.
7. A person found guilty of taking or possessing any undersized fish during the closed season, or taking any prohibited fish, is liable, in addition to any other penalty that may be imposed, to a fine of thirty dollars in respect of each such fish.
The Fisheries Department says that the grouper population is not looking good in the Caribbean and even in Belize. Hence, the regulation is a permanent law and is meant for the grouper species to be conserved within Belizean waters. Anyone found guilty of contravening the law can be convicted and possibly face jail time. Because of the seriousness and the dwindling grouper population in Belize, the Fisheries Department will be vigorously policing and enforcing the law. In addition, the fisheries department is appealing to the buying public to 1) only buy Nassau Grouper from those people with a special license 2) buy only whole grouper and 3) buy grouper within the legal size.
The Nassau grouper is a medium to large fish, growing to over a meter in length and can weigh up to 55 pounds. Nassau Groupers are generally identified by four to five irregular dark stripes and their color can range from a pale tan or gray body to a pinkish to red color all depending on the dept they are found. Other generally features of the grouper is their black dots around their eyes, a large black saddle patch on their tail and a wide “tuning-fork” pattern on their forehead.