Groupers and Coralgroupers

Groupers (Epinephelus) and coralgroupers (Plectropomus) are high-value food fish. They are particular favorites in the live reef food fish trade, with the camouflage grouper being one of the most common fish species imported to Hong Kong for this purpose. The high market demand has put intense fishing pressure on many grouper and coralgrouper species in the Indo-Pacific, leading to population declines. Certain species are particularly susceptible to overfishing due to their habit of forming large spawning aggregations at the same place and time each year.

WCS is currently monitoring frequency of all sightings of groupers during our coral reef assessments. We are additionally working with local communities to incorporate grouper habitat requirements into Marine Protected Area (MPA) network designs. To boost awareness of the threat to groupers and other fish species vulnerable to overharvesting, WCS has produced fish ruler stickers showing the minimum size at maturity and which fish are particularly threatened in Fiji. We are supporting the Ministry of Fisheries on a national campaign to protect groupers during their key spawning times from June to September each year, and protect key aggregation sites. We are encouraging fishers to release all fish caught below reproductive size.

Camouflage Grouper

Scientific name: Epinephelus polyphekadion

Fijian name: kawakawa

The camouflage grouper is usually found in coral-rich areas near islands. It is distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific, and feeds on crustaceans, fish, and molluscs. Spawning occurs in large (100‒2,000 individuals) aggregations that form at night. Such aggregations are sensitive to the phase of the moon, forming either prior to the full moon or new moon, depending on the region. Because the camouflage grouper is very easy to approach underwater and spawns in large aggregations, it is particularly vulnerable to fishing. While the species remains widespread, it is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List for this reason. In Fiji, camouflage groupers are fished particularly intensively, especially around Kavadu Island and northern Vanua Levu. There, groupers are targeted even more heavily than other popular food fish like snappers and parrotfish. Surveys have shown that the camouflage grouper, despite historically being very common, is found in low densities in many locations in Fiji, likely due to fishing pressure.

Squaretail Coralgrouper

Scientific name: Plectropomus areolatus

Fijian name: Donu

The squaretail coralgrouper is a common grouper with a brownish-red body and blue spots. Members of the species tend to reach 60 cm at maturity, though the maximum length is 73 cm. They are commonly found in lagoons and seaward reef habitats, and they feed exclusively on other fish. They are known to form spawning aggregates with the camouflage grouper (E. polyphekadion) and brown-marbled grouper (E. fuscoguttatus). During this time, they are often targeted by fishers. The squaretail coralgrouper is the one of the most abundant reef food fish species in Fiji, but its numbers are rapidly declining. Commercial fishing is the biggest threat to the species, as it is the most sought-after grouper in the live reef fish food trade. The species has declined by 30% over the past 20 to 30 years, and is therefore listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

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