Illegal fishing could wipe out grouper stock
The apparent illegal capture of at least seven black grouper fish is under investigation by the Government’s fisheries department.
A short video clip on social media shows a boat with the protected species, also known as rockfish, lying motionless on the deck.
Conservationists noted the legal limit is one grouper per boat per day, and expressed concerns of the impact of overfishing.
Conservationist Choy Aming has said it is likely the grouper were caught on their spawning grounds, where it is illegal to fish.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said it was aware of the film circulating, adding its Marine Enforcement Section has “an active investigation in progress”.
The spokeswoman added the law is designed “to limit the harvest for the protection of the species”.
An illegal catch could result in a fine of up to $50,000 and up to two years in prison as well as the possible seizure of boats and equipment.
The film showed at least two men, one with a tattoo on his upper arm, aboard a boat with the fish pictured on the deck. A separate photo was taken of seven groupers lined up on the deck.
A photograph of a boat being boarded by police in the St David’s area is also circulating but police have not confirmed that it is the boat in question.
Mr Aming, a team member for the conservation group Ocean Vet, said that overfishing grouper could cause a collapse in the black grouper population in Bermuda, similar to the loss of the Nassau grouper which is no longer seen in our waters.
He told The Royal Gazette: “Considering they had caught rockfish of that size in a single night, it is pretty much guaranteed that they went out to one of the two grouper spawning grounds which is illegal.
“And then, you have your one per boat, per day rule as well.
“The grounds are completely protected because that is where they go to spawn and they only spawn after the full moon in the warmer months on a few specific days. The full moon was on Sunday and this video appeared on Monday, it seems like a premeditated, targeted incident.
“It has got to be protected because that is literally the only time they will reproduce.
“It is key to protect those sites — if you just let people fish there willy-nilly it would be a very easy way to wipe out groupers or drastically diminish the grouper population.
“It is also unfair to all the hard-working, honest fishermen who are trying to follow the laws and not pillage the ocean.
“This is a real slap in the face for them and their livelihood as well.”
Ocean Vet has touted the idea of setting up a policing patrol assisted by the public to help authorities ensure that fishing laws are adhered to.
“Patrolling the reef line is challenging,” Mr Aming said. “But there are only really a dozen places where most boats come in and out of.
“You could potentially have something set up in those areas. It’s also a timing thing — a lot of fishing takes place around the full moon so maybe we could do something in that regard.
“I filmed what looked like a wall of grouper about ten years ago and I was asked not to post it publicly because it would give the impression that the grouper are really plentiful.
“But we have two spawning sites that we know of so that video shot could have represented a large per cent of our entire population.”
The Bermuda Police Service did not respond to a request for comment by press time.