- LIFE area: French Guiana & Saint-Martin
- Scientific name: Epinephelus itajara
- Conservation status (IUCN): Critically endangered (CR)
- Diet: Crustaceans, fish
- Hábitat: Tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean
Victim of intensive over-fishing during the 1980s, the species is now found only in part of the western Atlantic Ocean (between Brazil and Florida). Other than a prefectural decree regulating sport fishing at sea in Guiana and the protection afforded within the Grand-Connétable island and Saint-Martin nature reserves there is no official protection. Various fishing activities, sometimes intense and with little respect for the species, targeting young as well as adults, don’t allow for the renewal of the species’ population.
Increasing tourism and consequent building activity on Saint-Martin contribute to habitat destruction through coastal development, increased sewage pollution, clearing the coastal zone and increased frequency of sea- reefs.
In Guiana, habitat pollution is one of the main threats to the species. Lack of management, supervision and control of recreational fishing (in rivers and in the sea) and professional line and driftnet fishing is a major problem.
Coral reefs, the species’ habitat, suffer worldwide from global warming that induces a reduction in the area occupied by coral reefs and episodes of coral bleaching.
Mobilizing those concerned: In order to better understand professional and tourist fishing activities, consultation meetings and working groups will be organised in order to understand all groups’ concerns, to define possible sustainable management and obtain the necessary commitments from fishermen. Modification of official decrees: The extension of prefectural decrees aims to regulate fishing of the species at Saint-Martin and in Guiana, outside reserve areas. In Guiana, this latter regulation would not only apply to estuaries and rivers, but also to uncontrolled fishing. At Saint-Martin this would concern increasing the area of authority of the National nature reserve sworn employees. Good conduct guide: A guide to good conduct aimed at sport fishermen, developed with their participation, will present the species, conservation issues, actions concerned by the program and a reminder of present regulations, recommended techniques and methods for sustainable fishing as well as recommended security practices, and a special telephone number for reporting illegal fishing. Restocking: Exploratory fishing will be undertaken to better understand larval recruitment into the population and eventually undertake the restocking of Saint-Martin populations.
What do local people think of the Goliath grouper? It’s an emblematic species and well known to Guianese people, much prized by restaurant owners, local people and sport fishermen. Can you give us an amusing fact? During the breeding season Goliath groupers come together and males produce a very low frequency sound, similar to “booms”, or rumblings at the time of spawning. Any diver close at the time can hear these sounds and feel them through their rib cage. How has the species fared since you’ve been studying it? What figures do you have today? At present we have no estimation of the size of the Goliath grouper population in Guiana or of tendencies despite a capture-marking-recapture study. At present the species only occurs in the west of the Atlantic Ocean (from Florida to Brazil). It would appear that stocks are slowly increasing in Florida due to the implementation of several conservation measures, which isn’t however the case in other parts of the West Indies where nowadays sightings are quite sporadic. What are the main threats and the reason for its decline? The main threats are lack of management and control of sport fishing (in rivers and at sea) and of professional fishing, with lines of drift nets. There is no quota for professional fishing. Yet, sometimes maybe twenty fish can be caught in just a few hours. With sport fishing, only fishing from boats at sea is regulated and stipulates that only one grouper can be caught for each visit of a boat to sea. However, due to a lack of checks regulations are hardly respected. Fishing with drift nets, and especially abandoned ones, also contributes to the number taken. What do you want from the LIFE BIODIV’OM programme concerning the conservation of this species? The BIODIV’OM programme would allow us to establish a consultation project with those concerned with the species at sea and integrating them into a program for the species’ conservation. The five years would allow us to take the time to meet those concerned and consider sustainable management for the Goliath grouper population by putting in place mutually agreed measures.