Shedd tries to save grouper, an endangered fish

January 25, 2012 4:35:23 AM PST
Grouper is becoming just too popular -- at restaurants. Chicago's Shedd Aquarium warns the tasty fish may be headed for extinction.

At Isaacson and Stein Fish Company, located just west of Chicago's Loop, you can get a good look at fresh grouper. It has firm white meat and excellent flavor. The groupers at Isaacson and Stein are from the Gulf of Mexico and still somewhat plentiful. But Nassau groupers are now highly endangered, which is why the Shedd Aquarium is conducting research to see if this popular, delicious Bahamian fish can be saved. But there's a problem: It's too easy to catch.

"These animals have remarkable reproductive strategy. On full moons in January and December they congregate from hundreds of miles around on select sites. And they can number up to 10,000," Chuck Knapp, Shedd director conservation and research, said.

That's when the commercial fishermen strike, trapping the groupers, many of which weigh up to 30 pounds or more. There are laws against the trapping of spawning groupers but they're very difficult to enforce and right now the fishermen are winning.

"If they do it often enough over a repeated number of years they can completely wipe out that spawning aggregation and really deplete populations from hundreds of miles around," Knapp said.

The Shedd Aquarium and their vessel, Coral Reef II, have been researching this problem for several years and the evidence is overwhelming. Unless something is done, the Nassau grouper's days are numbered. The grouper is endangered globally and in the Bahamas it is slowly disappearing because of overfishing and modern technology -- GPS.

"The GPS has allowed fishermen to return to these spawning areas year after year to the same spot. Literally to within a few yards and to drop their traps and take these fish year after year," Knapp said. "Completely wiping them out."

The Shedd will continue to work with the Bahamas to better enforce existing laws and to pass new laws to save the grouper. You can help -- by not eating grouper. The Shedd Aquarium has a guide to choosing sustainable seafood. Download it here