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Enjoy Little Cayman Diving at its Best!

New Year 2004

Grouper Fishing Ban Finally Official!

The Caymanian Compass (our local newspaper) published in December a letter sent in by our very own Marc on the Grouper fishing issue. We reproduce it here integrally since the topic is so important and also because recent developments have crowned everybody's efforts to protect the Groupers; the fishing ban has become a law!

Grouper Hole Fishing in Little Cayman in January and February, 2004

Unfortunately, the time has come again for residents of Little Cayman (and the Cayman Islands as a whole) to discuss the issue of Grouper Hole Fishing which is scheduled to start again during the first full moon of 2004. While there wasn't any fishing allowed there in 2003, it is important to remember that literally thousands of mature groupers were taken there in 2001 and 2002. According to rumor, many of those groupers ended up wasted because they weren't handled properly. The Department of the Environment, the Marine Conservation Board, and REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) have concluded that more fishing at this specific time in 2004 will further reduce the size of the resident Grouper population to a critical level and that the current plan of allowing semi-annual fishing is doomed to failure. I want to focus on the socio-economic impact of this fishing and I would like to appeal to your common sense.

Fact #1: Many of the Grouper Holes within the Caribbean Basin are gone due to over fishing. The impact of reduced grouper populations in areas where these Holes are gone is unknown. Common sense says that the effect has to be negative.

Fact #2: 4 of the 5 Grouper Holes in the Cayman Islands are scientifically deemed to be 'fished out'. The only one left is on the West End of Little Cayman. 100% of the resident groupers' reproductive activities occur at this Grouper Hole at a specific time. It isn't a yearly New Year's Eve Party. It is where the next generation of groupers are made. Potentially thousands of mature groupers congregate at the Hole and spawn once per year. This number is getting smaller each year. Apparently, spawning requires lots of energy so each grouper eats a lot while at the Hole. Fisherman are fishing at a place where they know that there are a lot of hungry fish. This is equivalent to 'shooting fish in a barrel'. Never mind the fact that most of the fish that are caught haven't even spawned (i.e.: reproduced) yet. Does this make any sense whatsoever?

Fact #3: It takes 7 to 8 years for a grouper to reach sexual maturity. It is estimated that with Nature left alone, each egg has a 1 in 10,000 chance of 'making it'. Add to that the fact that thousands of groupers are removed from the ecosystem at a critical time when fishing is allowed. If humans faced those odds we would be doomed to extinction too.

Fact #4: Repeat visitors to Little Cayman looked forward to being reunited with 'Ben the Grouper' each year. Ben used to play with divers at Marilyn's Cut on Bloody Bay Wall. He liked to be stroked and he would follow dive groups around like a pet dog. Ben could have been called the 'mascot' of Bloody Bay. Unfortunately, Ben didn't make it back from the Grouper Spawn in 2002. While he could have died from natural causes or migrated to another part of the reef - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that he ended up as dinner somewhere - or even worse - rotting at the dump. Before Ben disappeared, he was featured in every major dive magazine around the world. When divers found out that Ben had 'left' they asked why? They were told about the Grouper Spawn because it was the likely cause. I think that it is safe to say that this information didn't sit well with tourists. When tourists leave the Cayman Island happy they are more likely to return. We need to keep tourists happy. Luckily, Ben's sidekick 'Jerry' has recently taken up the task of Bloody Bay 'mascot'. Will Jerry return from the 2004 Spawn?

Fact #5: The Cayman Islands Government is dedicating substantial Government money to developing Nature Tourism in the Cayman Islands. Cayman Airways has begun service to Little Cayman and it is rumored that construction on the new airstrip here will start again soon. If we allow our Natural Resources to be depleted, don't we run the risk of loosing tourists?

Little Cayman's economic well being depends solely on the flow of happy tourists. It is obvious that I have a biased opinion towards this issue. I am not against fishing at all but I am against fishing at this specific place at this specific time. To me, a decision to ban fishing at the last remaining Grouper Hole in the Cayman Islands for 8 years is a 'no brainer'. I hope that most people who live in the Cayman Islands feel the same way too. I am saddened when I hear in the News that many species of fish around the world are being over fished. I am further saddened when I can't do anything about it from here. This is a chance for the Cayman Islands to stand up for what is Right. The theme of the Department of Tourism's annual Tourism Conference this past November was Tourism - Stronger Together. Appropriate action against Grouper Hole Fishing will benefit Tourism, it will make us Stronger, and we can do it Together. Please don't be part of the silent majority that does nothing. Contact your local Government Representative and tell them to take action NOW. Tell them to ban fishing at Grouper Holes for 8 years. Better yet, tell them to ban it permanently. The first full moon in January is just around the corner.

Marc Pothier
Little Cayman

That was in mid-December, barely a few weeks from the beginning of the spawning season. Things had to happen fast for the Groupers to be given a second chance. 

And then just around Christmas, thanks to the relentless efforts of the Department Of Environment staff and a lot of public support, the law was finally passed! A total ban of Grouper fishing at the spawning sites is in effect for a period of 8 years ; Groupers are now considered an endangered species in the Cayman Islands. 

Jerry has been celebrating the great news, but as of early January, he still hadn't departed for the annual spawning aggregation. 

We are pleased to see the Cayman Islands take a leading role in the fight to prevent a global extinction of the species. Groupers are representative of the health of a reef's ecosystem; if they do well, so will the reefs. They are also among divers' best friends, and we hope to see it remain that way!

The staff at Paradise Divers

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