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Epinephelus akaara

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA ACTINOPTERYGII PERCIFORMES EPINEPHELIDAE

Scientific Name: Epinephelus akaara
Species Authority: (Temminck & Schlegel, 1842)
Common Name/s:
English Hong Kong Grouper
Synonym/s:
Epinephelus akaara (Temminck & Schlegel, 1842)

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2003
Date Assessed: 2003-04-30
Assessor/s: Cornish, A.
Reviewer/s: Fennessy, S. & Sadovy, Y. (Grouper & Wrasse Red List Authority)
Justification:
Epinephelus akaara is assessed as Endangered based on past rate of population decline (EN A2d). While much of the information on past and present abundance of Hong Kong grouper is anecdotal or incomplete, the accounts of the severe decline in numbers from mainland China, the main country where this species occurs after Japan, are worrying enough to support the precautionary approach adopted here. It is estimated that the global population has declined by approximately 63% over the last three generations (i.e., within the last 21 years). It is unlikely that Hong Kong grouper would ever go extinct as mariculturists have successfully bred and raised the species (Tseng and Ho 1988) but the apparent dire state of stocks and continued high fishing pressure on this fish mean it maybe heading for extinction in the wild.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Epinephelus akaara is a western Pacific species, where it occurs in southern Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and southern China (Heemstra and Randall 1993). The species is also reported from the Gulf of Tonkin (Tseng and Ho 1988), making it likely that it also occurs in Viet Nam. The reported presence of the species in the Ogasawara Islands (Japan) is questionable (Randall et al. 1997).
Countries:
Native:
China; Hong Kong; Japan; Korea, Republic of; Taiwan, Province of China; Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Native:
Pacific – northwest; Pacific – western central
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Apparently many of the Hong Kong groupers landed in Hong Kong in the past were caught from islands off the mainland coast to the north of Hong Kong were they were once common but are evidently no longer common (Patrick Chan, pers. comm. 2001).

Declines in landings are assumed to reflect declines in Hong Kong grouper stocks unless it is known that fishing effort has decreased or other factors are involved. The mean percentage decline of Hong Kong grouper (excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan which appear to have negligible populations of Hong Kong grouper) from China (90%), Japan (50%) and Republic of Korea (50%) is 63 %.

Ideally, the percentage decline would be applied to estimates of the original Hong Kong grouper population within each country for which the decline applies. This would be done for all countries and the overall decline would be the percentage difference between the original global population size and the current one. Unfortunately, estimates of country stock size are non-existent for this species. The declines were therefore weighted by rocky reef area (rather than by population size) to give an overall decline figure. This method assumes that pristine densities of Hong Kong grouper were the same at all localities. This is probably not likely to have been the case but it enables a single figure to be derived which is likely more representative of the global situation than the alternative, which is just to say the decline lies between 50 and 90% (the lowest and highest decline rates).

It is worth noting that simply taking the mean of all decline figures gave a very similar figure, 63% rather than 65%.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: In Hong Kong, the species inhabits shallow coral communities and rocky reefs to at least 17 m (Sadovy and Cornish 2000). Tseng and Ho (1988) report that fishers from Hong Kong operating in the East and South China Seas take adult and spawning fish along the continental shelf at depths of 15-30 fathoms (27-55 m) while juveniles under 10 cm SL may occur shallower than 10 fathoms (18 m). Japan this fish is taken by handline over rocky reefs (Masuda et al. 1984).

Sexual maturation in the female occurs at about 23-24 cm SL, or about three years old (Tseng and Ho 1988). The oldest fish found by two studies was seven years (Tseng and Ho 1988, Hung 1994). The generation time is therefore assumed to lie between 3-7 years. Hung also provides figures for the percentage of the annual catch off Fujian province that falls in each age class. The mean age of adults was four years but the extremes of three and seven are still used as this subpopulation would have been fairly heavily exploited. Four years was, however, used as the point estimate in the species assessment. The growth in mariculture operations for valuable grouper species has prompted an interest in obtaining broodstock for spawning and hatchery rearing. Males of E. akaara (males are larger than females) are very difficult to obtain, another indication of the severe depletions indicated for this species (Patrick Chan, pers. comm. 2002).

There is no information in the (sparse) literature to suggest that Hong Kong grouper aggregate to spawn. However, a knowledgeable recreational diver who has dived in Hong Kong reported seeing up to 50 individuals close together on the reef on several occasions (Patrick Chan, pers. comm. 2001) during summer indicating spawning aggregations may have occurred in the past. None have been reported in the last few decades, however, and this species is no longer common in Hong Kong. Attains 35 cm SL (Masuda et al. 1984). The Japanese All-tackle record for Hong Kong grouper is 1.65 kg (Japanese Game Fishing Association 2001).
Systems: Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The Hong Kong grouper has a limited distribution that coincides with the heavily fished inshore areas of Japan, Taiwan, Republic of Korea and southern China.

The Hong Kong grouper is the most expensive of all the Epinephelus groupers in Hong Kong. It is known from anecdotal accounts that the abundance of this fish has declined considerably from the 1960s to late 1990s in Hong Kong waters (see Sadovy and Cornish 2000).

Moreover, supply of Hong Kong grouper seed (i.e., the fry and fingerlings), which was the favoured species for mariculture in southern China, is known to have significantly decreased in abundance (the small fish are taken from the wild and then are grown up to market size in captivity). For example, the seed was abundant in Fujian (a province of mainland China) waters in the early 1980s but was very rare by 1994 (Sadovy 2000). In 1979, Hong Kong culturists purchased, for grow-out, at least 180,000 kg of this species (200,000-450,000 fish of 100-200 g) that had been wild-caught from southern China, today seed of this species from China is rare (Sadovy 2000). It was reported that Hong Kong grouper landings could not keep up with demand by the late 1970s and that prices had risen from HK$ 33-50/kg in 1978 to HK$ 50-70/kg in 1979 as a result (Tseng and Ho 1988). Juveniles are no longer readily available from Hong Kong either (Sadovy and Cornish 2000).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There are no known fishing restrictions on this species as far as is known. There is a very small no-take marine reserve at Cape d'Aguilar in Hong Kong where Hong Kong grouper may slowly be increasing in number following protection (Andrew Cornish, pers. obs.) and there may be others in southern Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and mainland China but details are not available.

There is a serious lack of time-series data from annual landings, CPUE, underwater visual census from countries in the North-West Pacific where this species is distributed. Such data would greatly increase the accuracy of future assessments.

Ideally, each country would conduct a full stock assessment on this species, which would calculate population size as well as rates of decline. It would also be useful to know from genetic studies whether there are subpopulations within the range of this fish.

Knowledge of natural reproductive behaviour in the wild, particularly whether the species aggregates to spawn (and where and when), would be of use in managing stocks of this species in the wild.
Citation: Cornish, A. 2003. Epinephelus akaara. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 18 April 2014.
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