Twenty Grouper Species Being Eaten to Extinction

HONG KONG, China, March 22, 2007 (ENS) – Twenty of the world’s 162 species of grouper are headed towards extinction unless better management or conservation measures are introduced quickly, according to the first in depth assessment of these important commercial fish.

Groupers are the basis of the multimillion dollar live reef food fish trade based in Hong Kong, and around the world, consumers pay up to $50 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) for grouper. They are one of the most valuable groups of commercial fishes in chilled fish markets of the tropics and sub-tropics.

Eight grouper species already are listed by IUCN-The World Conservation Union as being in danger of extinction, and the new assessment proposes adding 12 more species.

A panel of 20 experts from 10 nations determined the extinction threat facing groupers at a recent workshop in Hong Kong.

The workshop at the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Hong Kong, KHU, was the first systematic assessment of the commercially important species, said Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, chair of the IUCN Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and associate professor at HKU.


Dr. Yvonne Sadovy joined The University of Hong Kong in 1993 after five years as director of the Fisheries Research Laboratory of the government of Puerto Rico and then as biologist with the Caribbean Fishery Management Council of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. (Photo courtesy HKU)
"The results are worrying and highlight the urgent need for fishery management, more effective marine protected areas, and more sustainable eating habits for consumers of these fishes," said Sadovy, who organized the workshop.

Increasing international trade to meet "an insatiable demand for grouper" poses a major threat, workshop participants concluded.

The workshop is part of a worldwide study of marine life called the Global Marine Species Assessment by the IUCN, Conservation International and numerous other partners that provides scientists with baseline data for analyzing threats to ocean species.

"Overfishing could decimate another major food and economic resource for humans, similar to the loss of the cod stocks off New England and Canada that has put thousands of people out of work," says Roger McManus, senior director of the marine program at Conservation International based in Arlington, Virginia.


The square-tailed coral trout, Plectropomus areolatus, is considered threatened. (Photo courtesy J.E. Randall)
The threatened groupers include two species of coral trout grouper, which are mainstays of the live reef food fish trade in Hong Kong. Both can be found in Hong Kong fish markets, but they face heavy and unmanaged fishing pressure that is rapidly reducing their populations.

In North and South America, too, heavy fishing of grouper for the chilled fish markets poses a threat to their survival.

The Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, once one of the most commonly landed groupers in the islands of the Western Atlantic Ocean, now is listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and has nearly disappeared from most Caribbean reefs.


The Hong Kong grouper, Epinephelus akaara, is prized as a food fish. (Photo courtesy Yvonne Sadovy)
Groupers are among the oldest fish on coral reefs, with some species reaching more than 50 years old. Several species only reach reproductive maturity later in life, making them particularly vulnerable to fishing before they mature.

Commercial fishing that targets reproductive gatherings of adults further hinders replenishment of unmanaged populations, the workshop concluded.

Workshop participants identified the need to better protect outer reef areas and to manage spawning aggregations of many of the threatened grouper species. Outer reef areas are often not incorporated into Marime Protected Areas, and spawning aggregations necessary for continued reproduction of many grouper species are rapidly eliminated by uncontrolled fishing.

The outcome of the workshop highlights the need for sustainable consumption of these important fish species.

Scientists say the pending inclusion of these 20 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reflects the widespread failure to successfully manage fisheries associated with coral reefs.