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Recovery of critically endangered Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) in the Cayman Islands following targeted conservation actions


Many large-bodied marine fishes that form spawning aggregations, such as the Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), have suffered regional overfishing due to exploitation during spawning. In response, marine resource managers in many locations have established marine protected areas or seasonal closures to recover these overfished stocks. The challenge in assessing management effectiveness lies largely in the development of accurate estimates to track stock size through time. For the past 15 y, the Cayman Islands government has taken a series of management actions aimed at recovering collapsed stocks of Nassau grouper. Importantly, the government also partnered with academic and nonprofit organizations to establish a research and monitoring program (Grouper Moon) aimed at documenting the impacts of conservation action. Here, we develop an integrated population model of 2 Cayman Nassau grouper stocks based on both diver-collected mark-resight observations and video censuses. Using both data types across multiple years, we fit parameters for a state-space model for population growth. We show that over the last 15 y the Nassau grouper population on Little Cayman has more than tripled in response to conservation efforts. Census data from Cayman Brac, while more sparse, show a similar pattern. These findings demonstrate that spatial and seasonal closures aimed at rebuilding aggregation-based fisheries can foster conservation success.

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