Grouper Off the Menu in Turks and Caicos to Prevent Overfishing
Even at Mr. Groupers in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) the local restauranteur is forced to serve frozen grouper. For the first time in history, the country has implemented a closed season for the Nassau Grouper.
Pursuant to an order from the Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA), grouper fishing is banned from December 1, 2015 to February 28, 2016. The three-month time period covers the grouper spawning season and is intended to help prevent overfishing. During the closed period, fishing, selling, possession, and buying is prohibited. That means that local restaurants are also banned from serving Nassau Grouper, which is a popular menu item, particularly among winter tourists.
The Bahamas and the Cayman Islands have similar restrictions. As explained by DEMA, TCI is one of the few places where the Nassau grouper is still thriving. In most other countries, included the southern United States, overfishing has decimated the fish population. To prevent a similar situation, Turks and Caicos is taking steps to protect the species during breeding season, when they are vulnerable to fishing because they migrate to form large breeding aggregations.
Turks and Caicos is strictly enforcing the closed season. As reported by TC Weekly News, ten poachers were arrested on January 10, 2016. According to the police report, the poachers were found to be in possession of illegal spear guns, breathing apparatus, and more than 200 pounds of illegal catch. The individuals will face a number of charges, including possession of Nassau Grouper during the closed season.
With regard to the future of the Nassau Grouper, the fish will be the subject of an ongoing research collaboration between DEMA, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Oregon State University, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. The project is designed to gain a better understanding of the Nassau Grouper fishery in the Turk and Caicos Islands, as well as the steps that may be needed to preserve it. While the unavailability of grouper may be disappointing for some, the proactive measures will hopefully help preserve the species so it can be enjoyed by both divers and restaurant patrons for many years to come.