The workshop 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 MPAs, and spawning aggregations necessary for continued reproduction of many grouper species are rapidly eliminated by uncontrolled fishing. Increasing international trade to meet an insatiable demand for grouper poses a particularly major threat.
The workshop outcome serves as another reminder of the need for sustainable fishing and consumption of important fish species. The threatened groupers are naturally vulnerable to over-fishing, and the continued decline of fish populations can threaten food security and livelihoods in source countries. Their pending inclusion on the IUCN Red List of threatened species also reflects the widespread failure to successfully manage fisheries associated with coral reefs.
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. In addition, commercial fishing that targets reproductive gatherings of adults further hinders replenishment of unmanaged populations.
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, heavy fishing of grouper for the chilled fish markets also poses a significant threat. The Nassau grouper, 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 virtually disappeared from most Caribbean reefs.