Observations of a Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, spawning aggregation site in Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, including multi-species spawning information

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Abstract

Synopsis

Mass spawning aggregations of Caribbean grouper species are a conservation priority because of declines due to over-fishing. Previous studies have documented five historical aggregation sites in the Cayman Islands. Today, three of these sites are inactive or commercially extinct. In January 2002, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation led an expedition to Little Cayman Island to document a recently re-discovered spawning aggregation of Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus. A team of divers estimated the abundance, color phase composition, and courtship and spawning behavior of the aggregating grouper. The color phase composition of the aggregation shifted both during the course of each evening and throughout the 10-day project. Divers documented atypical coloration and courtship behavior in 10 additional fish species, of which five were seen spawning. Artisanal fishing occurred daily on the aggregation. The Cayman Islands Department of the Environment collected landings data and sampled catches to obtain length and sex ratios. The Cayman fishing fleet, while small, had a significant impact on the aggregation with a harvest of almost 2 000 Nassau grouper during the 10-day project. The study site supports the largest known Nassau grouper aggregation in the Cayman Islands. The relatively large size of fish and the high proportion of males indicate that this site supports a relatively healthy aggregation compared to other Nassau grouper aggregation sites throughout the Caribbean.

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