New publications on the Nassau grouper

January 12, 2021

The excellent Nassau grouper work from the Cayman Islands continues with two new papers on video length measurements and spatial ecology

Stock, B. C., Heppell, S. A., Waterhouse, L., Dove, I. C., Pattengill-Semmens, C. V., McCoy, C. M., … & Semmens, B. X. (2021). Pulse recruitment and recovery of Cayman Islands Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning aggregations revealed by in situ length-frequency dataICES Journal of Marine Science.

ABSTRACT: Fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) are vulnerable to overexploitation, yet quantitative assessments of FSA populations are rare. We document an approach for how to conduct such an assessment, evaluating the response of Critically Endangered Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) to protections in the Cayman Islands. We assessed pre-protection status on all islands using length data from fishery catch. We then used 17 years of noninvasive length-frequency data, collected via diver-operated laser calipers, to estimate recruitment and spawning biomass of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman following protection. Bimodal length distributions in 2017–2019 indicated a large recruitment pulse (4–8× average) derived from spawning in 2011. Biomass recovered to 90–106% of the pre-exploitation level after 16 years, largely driven by the strong 2011 year class. Length distributions were also bimodal in 2017–2019 on nearby Cayman Brac, implying a synchronous recruitment pulse occurred on both islands. Our results demonstrate that: (i) in situ length data can be used to monitor protected FSAs; (ii) spatiotemporal FSA closures can be effective, but success takes time if population recovery depends upon sporadic recruitment; and (iii) FSA fishery management targets may need to be higher than commonly recommended (i.e. spawning potential ratio >0.6 instead of 0.4).

Blincow, K. M., Bush, P. G., Heppell, S. A., McCoy, C. M., Johnson, B. C., Pattengill-Semmens, C. V., … & Semmens, B. X. (2020). Spatial ecology of Nassau grouper at home reef sites: using acoustic telemetry to track a large, long-lived epinephelid across multiple years (2005-2008)Marine Ecology Progress Series655, 199-214

ABSTRACT: Characterizing the behavior of coral reef fishes at home reef sites can provide insight into the mechanisms of spatial ecology and provide a framework for spatial resource management. In the Caribbean, populations of Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus have declined due to fishing impacts on spawning aggregations. Despite local and regional efforts by fisheries managers to implement regulations protecting spawning aggregations, few Nassau grouper populations appear to be recovering. In order to improve management strategies for this critically endangered species, it is necessary to understand the spatial ecology of the species across seasons and years. In the Cayman Islands, we used a multi-year, presence/absence, depth-coded acoustic tagging dataset of Nassau grouper to characterize patterns in the species’ behavior and vertical habitat use at home reef sites. Twenty acoustically tagged individuals (56−84 cm, 70.01 ± 7.40 cm; total length, mean ± SD) maintained consistent home reef sites, although some fish regularly shifted activity centers within the home site, often following a seasonal spawning migration. Seven fish with depth-coded tags showed a higher probability of vertical movement in the hours immediately following dawn and preceding dusk. We found evidence of a positive relationship between the fish condition factor and depth of home reef site. The finding of persistent home reef sites across years suggests that properly sized spatial reserves at home reef sites can be a useful complement to spawning aggregation protection when considering management strategies for Nassau grouper.