A Billion-dollar Business Puts Species and People At Risk
Gland, Switzerland, 28 April 2013 – At least 12% of groupers – globally-important food fish species that live on coral and rocky reefs – face extinction,
putting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world at risk, finds a report published today by
the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s (IUCN SSC) Grouper and Wrasse
The overall percentage of threatened groupers could be much higher as there is insufficient data for about 30% of the
species, according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
The study points to overfishing and the booming international luxury seafood trade as major threats to the survival of
some grouper species, and to the livelihoods of those who depend on them for food and income. Its authors call for
urgent conservation and management efforts to prevent further declines of these species.
“The declines in some grouper fisheries are alarming,” says Yvonne Sadovy, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and lead author of the study. “Most of them are not managed at all and their natural ability to reproduce can’t keep up with increasing demand. The
rapidly growing international trade in groupers further reduces their populations.”
More than 300,000 tons of groupers – or 90 million individuals – were caught globally in 2009, mostly in Asia, where they are particularly sought-after for the luxury restaurant trade. Groupers are the foundation of the US$ 750
million international live reef fish market centered in Hong Kong and growing in mainland China, where consumers are
ready to pay over US$ 200 per kilogram of the species. They are also important food fish in developing countries like
Indonesia and the Philippines, where pressure to export reef fish is growing, according to the authors.
Groupers are among those species that are most vulnerable to fishing because of their longevity, late sexual maturation
and the fact that many form large mating groups known as ‘spawning aggregations’. Despite their economic importance,
few grouper fisheries are regularly monitored or managed, and many are in decline.
In the US Caribbean, the Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), which is commonly fished during its brief aggregation periods, has been essentially wiped out. Of the several dozen
well-documented breeding grounds, only two continue to support large numbers of the species, and these have also been
considerably reduced. In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, several species are considered to be threatened by the
international trade, including the Square-tailed Coral Grouper (Plectropomus areolatus), also often taken from its spawning aggregations.
“Overfishing is like mismanaging a bank account,” says Matthew Craig, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and one of the authors of the report. “The current fish population is our principle balance, hopefully earning interest in the form of new fish born. If those
initial assets are continually withdrawn faster than the interest accumulates, the principle, that is the fish out there
now, will be quickly depleted. It’s easy to see how rapidly we could lose all the money, or in this case, all of the
Improved management by source countries with priority given to local food security considerations, as well as better
monitoring and control of international trade are urgently needed to reduce threats to these species, according to the
The study was published in the journal Fish and Fisheries. It is based on data accumulated by experts over a period of 20 years.