Nassau grouper now declared ‘threatened’ species

Decades-long harvest ban in U.S. waters not enough, report says

Keys species could become extinct due to loss of spawning sites

Status designation does not bring any immediate rule changes

July 4, 2016

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The Nassau grouper has joined the unsettling list of native Florida Keys species now officially “threatened” with the possibility of becoming extinct.

“Although harvest of Nassau grouper has diminished due to management measures, the reduced number and size of spawning aggregations and the inadequacy of law enforcement continue to present extinction risk to Nassau grouper,” the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote in its decision to list the fish as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision, published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, stopped one step short of declaring Nassau grouper an endangered species.

Despite being legally protected from harvest in U.S. and state waters for more a quarter-century, Nassau grouper are a slow-growing species that has lost more than half of its known fishing aggregations throughout the Caribbean to overfishing, the agency reported. “The population has yet to recover despite conservation efforts,” says the decision.

The WildEarth Guardians organization has pushed for more Nassau grouper protection for six years.

“Reining in human exploitation of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations is key to protecting these magnificent fish,” said Taylor Jones of WildEarth. “The agency should also designate critical habitat in the U.S. portions of the species’ range to protect the coral reefs and spawning sites these fish need to survive.”

The listing does not trigger any immediate changes for recreational or commercial fishing. Additional studies will be undertaken during writing of a recovery plan that may forward proposed rules.

The American Sportfishing Association “definitely will continue to monitor the rule-making process,” said Kellie Ralston, the group’s Florida fisheries policy director.

With most known spawning sites for Nassau grouper outside the mainland U.S., the possibility of marine reserves being created for Nassau grouper “is not something we anticipate,” Ralston said.