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Fiji Time: 7:29 AM on Wednesday 17 September

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Disappearing Goliath

Ilaitia Turagabeci
Monday, May 26, 2014

IF Jonah the biblical prophet had to speak today on that big mouth of the deep, he probably would spread the gospel of conservation to save the species from death that stalks it.

The giant grouper —known variously as the giant sea bass, Jewfish, cod, promicrops lanceolatus and, in Fijian, kavu — is fast disappearing from our waters.

Among the theories on why the kavu has been called the jewfish on the other side of the planet is that Jews favour this certain type of fish because they consider it to be the grandest kosher fish.

Famed explorer William Dampier, in his 1697 book — A New Voyage Round the World — talks of his Jamaica expedition where he encountered Jews who viewed the fish as the cleanest because of their large scales and fins, and according to their Levitical Law, was the best fish to eat.

Some believe it was probably the fish that transported Jonah in its mouth to Nineveh, not the whale as most have imagined it to be.

It's easy to believe that the giant grouper, based on its sheer size, sometimes weighing up to 1000 pounds, could have been Jonah's transporter.

Whatever one's view, Jonah would vouch for this big mouth.

For in a fish of such gigantic proportion, his captivating biblical tale of a ride across the sea would not have been possible.

As the country prepares for the beginning of a special time in the lives of grouper fish when they breed between June and September, conservationists are pleading with citizens to try and abstain from eating, catching, selling or buying them.

The SeaWeb Asia Pacific Fiji program is urging people to sign the 4FJ (For Fiji) Pledge which states that during this period, they will help bring back the populations of kawakawa and donu, the famous grouper species in Fiji.

"By taking the pledge, people are helping reduce fishing pressure on this fish during its breeding season. That will mean we will start seeing more of these fish over time," said SeaWeb Asia Pacific executive director Scott Radway.

SeaWeb campaigner Alumeci Nakeke remembers the giant grouper — listed as vulnerable in the International Conservation Union's red list — that her forefathers talked about.

Given their size and desirability, the king of the grouper species is threatened by overfishing and hard to find nowadays. "I was about 10 and used to hear people in the village joking about the kavu, or gagavoka. They called it gagavoka because it always had its mouth open, and staring into space waiting for its meal to come by," she said.

"They used to say 'rawa ni tiloma e dua na kapa bisikete' (it can swallow a biscuit tin) so that theory about Jonah could be true. Sometimes people say in the village to those who always sit and stare with their mouths open 'o i'o ena ga o ga tu dua a gagavo'a' (you stare like a gagavoka)."

Ms Nakeke said citizens should try and help the grouper fish stock recover before it's too late.

NEXT WEEK: Grouper tales — Hook, Line and Sinker


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