Stronger Protections Sought for South Atlantic Groupers

Alexander Stone reefkeeper at
Thu Feb 6 12:24:12 EST 2003

R e e f D i s p a t c h
February 7, 2003

      Stronger Protections Sought for South Atlantic Groupers
conservation group makes headway towards grouper management reforms

Miami, Florida – Comprehensive management reform for South Atlantic
grouper stocks is being called for by the coral reef conservation
organization ReefKeeper International in response to information
indicating that most grouper stocks are at risk of collapse.  The public
interest group has requested that an integrated multi-point management
program be adopted by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and
National Marine Fisheries Service to protect groupers from further
depletion. To generate public support for the measures, the conservation
group is hosting a Save America's Groupers internet petition campaign at

The unified management approach would include new reduced fishing quotas
for all grouper species based on available population data for
designated indicator stocks, partial spawning season fishing closures,
and implementation of rebuilding plans that include no-take zones for
all officially designated overfished grouper species. “Because the
proposed management measures are interdependent and each serves a unique
purpose, they must all be implemented if we're going to protect groupers
and the fisheries that depend on them,” stated ReefKeeper Director
Alexander Stone.  Action on the ReefKeeper requests is under
consideration by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, but
their acceptance is uncertain.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently working on a
broad revision of federal grouper fishing regulations. Available
scientific data would indicate that increased protection is overdue.  A
November 2000 study by the American Fisheries Society identified 10 of
the 18 South Atlantic grouper species as being vulnerable to
extinction.  Similarly, the Council's own information indicates that 11
managed grouper stocks are presently overfished. "Precautionary fishery
management measures and stock rebuilding plans must be put in place now,
before it is too late," said Stone.

The 18 grouper species managed in the South Atlantic are naturally
divided by where they are found into a shallow-water grouper complex and
a deep-water grouper complex. Each complex consists of many grouper
species mixed together throughout the ocean bottom. These two so-called
mixed fishery complexes have made traditional techniques of managing
stocks on an individual species basis unworkable when applied to
groupers.  Since multiple species are mingled together in the same
fishing areas and depths, they are all caught together by the same
fishing gear at the same time.

As a result of this phenomenon, ReefKeeper contends that any catch
restrictions placed on a single species are ineffective because fishers
have no way to avoid catching the restricted species while pursuing
other species in the same grouper complex. “To compensate for the mixed
fishery effect on individual grouper species, we’re asking that
management measures be applied collectively to all shallow-water
groupers as one multi-species complex, and to all deep-water groupers as
another,” commented ReefKeeper Director Stone.

Compounding management problems is the fact that, due to limited data
and staff resources, the South Atlantic Council cannot actually
determine the current population condition of many grouper stocks.
According to ReefKeeper, the solution is to designate an "indicator
species" of known population status for each of the 2 grouper
complexes.  "Fishing quotas and management decisions for each of the 2
complexes could then be based on the known population condition of the
indicator species in each of the 2 complexes," Stone explained.

In fact, it appears that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
may be in at least partial agreement with ReefKeeper’s reasoning.
Recently the Council began to consider using the known population
condition of Snowy Grouper as the basis for setting fishing quotas and
making management decisions for the deep-water grouper complex.   But
the Council has yet to make any move towards selection of an indicator
species for the shallow-water grouper complex.

Groupers are seasonal spawners that -- true to their name -- tend to
congregate in large groups during spawning season.  Shallow-water
groupers do this generally in the Spring, while deep-water groupers do
it in the Fall.  There is widespread concern that fishing for spawning
groupers is decreasing their reproductive success year by year. The
result is further declines each year in already depressed grouper

ReefKeeper is asking the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to
give each grouper species a chance for undisturbed spawning. To do this,
the conservation group is advocating establishment of a Spring two-month
fishing closure for the shallow-water grouper complex and a Fall closure
of the same duration for the deep-water grouper complex. "Staggering the
spawning season closures this way would still allow a year-round flow of
local grouper to fish markets and restaurants while gradually rebuilding
grouper populations as more and more of them live to spawn before being
caught," the ReefKeeper spokesman emphasized.

Several of the conservation group’s requested management measures have
already been included as potential options in the current draft of the
revised regulations.  These include implementation of science-based
overfishing limits, partial spawning season fishing closures, and the
setting of rebuilding plans for badly overfished Nassau and Goliath
grouper stocks.  However, the regulation's present draft still lack
several management measures considered essential by ReefKeeper. The
conservation group is continuing to advocate for inclusion in the draft
regulation of management of grouper stocks on a complex-wide basis, and
the adoption of rebuilding plans that include the use of no-take zones
for all overfished grouper stocks in the South Atlantic.

The public interest organization remains hopeful.  “With continued
public support, we feel confident the Council will do the right thing
and adopt each of these measures which are fundamental to the recovery
of South Atlantic groupers from their present depleted condition,” added

The ReefKeeper grouper management requests are being considered for
adoption under Amendment 13 to the South Atlantic Snapper Grouper
Fishery Management Plan.  To generate public support for the requests,
ReefKeeper is seeking sign-ons to a Save America's Groupers petition at
"America's groupers need greater protection now, before they are all
driven to the brink of extinction," ReefKeeper Director Alexander Stone

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ReefKeeper International / Alexander Stone, Director / (305) 358-4600 or
a_stone at

South Atlantic Fishery Mgmt Council / Greg Waugh, Assistant Executive
Director / (843) 571-4366 or gregg.waugh at

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