The Maldives has set new measures in response to the threatening decline of wild Grouper fish.
Based on evidence collected by the Maldives Marine Research Institute (MMRI), formerly Marine Research Centre and Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), the new measures include revised minimum size limits for the most highly valued grouper species. The Grouper fish is an important coral reef fish for reef health, mostly distributed in warm seas, found often in dull colors of greens and browns. The diverse group of reef fish is largely appreciated by snorkelers and divers for their nature and appearance, but the live reef fish trade to South Asia has caused excessive capture of Groupers to the extent of threatening their population.
According to the MMRI, within just five years of the fishery trade, Grouper stocks were already declining. In 2011, research by MMRI found that 70 percent of Groupers landed for the export trade were immature and their latest research (published in 2020) shows that 90 percent of the most highly valued grouper species landed are immature, due to Groupers are highly susceptible to overfishing. Groupers have a long life expectancy, thus take a significant amount of time to reproduce and change sex as time passes. Breeding for Groupers is done in the same location and at predictable times of the month, so are easy targets to fishermen.
Professor Callum Roberts of Exeter University in the UK who has studied coral reefs for more than 25 years commented: “Minimum landing sizes must be bigger than the size of sexual maturity because newly mature fish are small and contribute very little to stock replenishment. Big fish are the engines of reproduction, producing far more eggs than many small fish combined. Fish need to be kept in the water longer to grow bigger and ensure that Maldivian groupers recover to more productive levels.”
Over the years, many island nations like Fiji and Seychelles have taken the initiative to control the export of valuable reef fish. Now, Maldives is the only country in the Indian Ocean still exporting live groupers.
The Maldives Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture Minister, Ms. Zaha Waheed commented“Groupers occupy a fundamental niche in the ecosystem and their fishery and trade are lucrative economic activities in the Maldives. In light of the increasing threats to the reef and reef-associated fishes such as groupers, we aimed to introduce effective and timely management measures to protect their spawning stock and safeguard the livelihoods of those who are dependent on this important resource. This new management plan has been formulated through a rigorous consultation process and encompasses the principles of equity, sustainability, and Ecosystem-Based Management”.
The new measures are vital to ensure the safety of over 700 grouper fishers who are active in 13 atolls and 31 islands across the country. The Ministry also emphasized the intention to use aquaculture of groupers to create market opportunities and reduce pressure on the wild stock. However, experts urge the Government to exert caution.
Photo Credit: TheFishSite