In 2006 a panel of twenty experts from 10 countries convened at a conservation summit to assess the status of groupers worldwide. Their conclusions included a dire warning that Twenty species of grouper, a globally important group of 162 coral reef food fishes, are threatened with extinction unless management or conservation measures are introduced.
The ground-breaking workshop at the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Hong Kong was the first systematic assessment of the commercially important species, said Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, Chair of the IUCN Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and Associate Professor at HKU.
“The results are worrying and highlight the urgent need for fishery management, more effective marine protected areas (MPAs), and more sustainable eating habits for consumers of these fishes,” said Sadovy, who organized the workshop.
Groupers are the basis of the multi-million dollar live reef fish market of the sea food trade centred in Hong Kong, where consumers can pay up to US$100 per kg for this delicacy.
Groupers are also the most valuable commercial fishes in the fresh fish markets of the tropics and sub-tropics.
The fishing grounds shifted rapidly in response to increasing demand in the 1990s. Reefs near Hong Kong, China were quickly depleted and sources of capture now extend well into both the Pacific and Indian oceans, broadly the Indo-Pacific region.
The major issues facing the trade are
- overfishing and consequent depletion of resources that are in many cases used in other subsistence or commercial fisheries;
- destruction of coral and mortality of nontarget fish when using cyanide solution in some places;
- fishing the spawning aggregations of some target fish, causing depletion of reproductive fish;
- the contribution of reef fish aquaculture, which is still largely dependent on grow-out of wild-caught fish, to depletion of the target fish stocks —and the extensive use of wild fish as fish feed;
- the wastage of nontarget fish—many are killed during fishing operations but not eaten, while many fish that could be used as food in local communities are caught to feed LRFF during grow-out—and because of deaths of target fish before reaching the market;
- social issues resulting mostly from conflicts and corruption regarding prices and access to fish, and from injuries and deaths from diving; and
- the inclusion of threathened species in the trade.