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Federal Protections Proposed for Imperiled Nassau Grouper

September 2, 2014
Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615
In This Release
Washington, DC—As a result of WildEarth Guardians’ 2010 petition to list Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed the species for protection as“threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  NMFS identified historic and continued human exploitation, and inadequate regulatory protections from overfishing as primary threats to the species.

“We’re thrilled the Nassau grouper is finally moving closer to the protection it so desperately needs to survive and recover,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

“We urge the agency to work quickly to finalize the listing and protect these amazing fish from exploitation.”

Nassau groupers live in coral reefs in the western North Atlantic from Bermuda, Florida, and the Bahamas to the Yucatan Peninsula and throughout the Caribbean to southern Brazil, including occasional sightings in the Gulf of Mexico. They can grow up to four feet in length and live up to 29 years.

Nassau groupers follow the cycle of the moon. Though normally solitary reef-dwellers, they form large spawning aggregations, from a few dozen to historically over 100,000 individuals,on or near full moons between December and March. Unfortunately, these aggregations are vulnerable to intensive fishing since they are always in the same place at the same time. Often, the discovery of a spawning aggregation is followed by heavy exploitation, and the local population can disappear in as little as a few years. Over 60 percent of known spawning aggregations are already gone due to human exploitation, and the rest are reduced.

“Reining in human exploitation of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations is key to protecting these magnificent fish,” said Jones. “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.”

Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species. More than 99 percent of listed plants and animals still exist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA protections.