ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT

Seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs are all considered essential for the lifecycle of many Caribbean reef fish species. Specifically, seagrass beds and submerged mangrove roots are excellent sources of protection and provide food for juvenile fish, lobster and conch that we like to eat - such as yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus), red hind (Epinephelus guttatus), schoolmaster snapper (Lutjanus apodus) and many others. The Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) can also be found in these Essential Fish Habitats, which are defined as aquatic habitats where fish spawn, feed, breed and/or grow to maturity to complete their life cycle.

These habitats are like nurseries where juvenile fish can grow surrounded by a plenitude of food items while also being protected from predators among the tall seagrass blades and mangrove roots. What would happen if these nurseries ceased to exist? We would not have adult fish to eat!

Caribbean Fisheries Management Council

Nassau and Goliath grouper are prohibited to catch in federal and state waters because historically their populations have been significantly reduced due to overfishing. Identifying the characteristics of the essential fish habitats used by Nassau grouper throughout their lifecycle is imperative to define the critical habitats necessary to achieve the  recovery of Nassau grouper under the ESA (NOAA Recovery Plan). With fisher help and input, we have documented where juvenile Nassau grouper are frequently sighted off northeast Puerto Rico. Armed with this information, we can provide data to define this specie’s critical habitat with the aim to provide managers with the information needed for robust protection of the threatened Nassau grouper and their habitats.