“The fact we’re even having this discussion means we’ve been successful,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chair BO River. Curious and generally fearless, they were easy targets for anglers and spear fishermen, especially when they gathered in large numbers in July and August to mate.
After the ban in 1990, the fish began to bounce back, but scientists believe Florida's record 2010 freeze likely sent numbers downward again. Anglers, however, have increasingly complained that the voracious fish are taking over reefs and gobbling up their catches.
A survey FCC conducted in the Keys and Dry Tortugas found just a 2 and 4.5 percent increase. They also said lobster counts have remained stable, indicating that the fish are not affecting the popular, and lucrative, crustacean.
The controversy over whether to allow harvesting has divided some anglers and divers, who consider the gentle Goliath a mascot for the reefs. On Thursday, about 60 speakers, nearly all divers and many wearing Save the Goliath T-shirts handed out by the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, criticized the move as an attempt to appease anglers.
“ You ’re awarding a trophy fish to essentially a lazy hunter,” said Miami diver James Woodard. UM Rosenthal School of Marine and Atmospheric Science fishery scientist Bill Hartford and Nova geneticist Andrea Bernard said they are working on building a statistical model, similar to methods used to assess blue fin tuna, that can account for gaps in catch history caused by the fishing moratorium and provide an accurate count for adult fish in Florida.
“People got us into this problem and if the fishing opens back up, we'll likely be back in this position,” said Ellie Fodder, a sophomore environmental study major at Becker College who left campus at 3:30 a.m. Thursday with her dive club, the Scuba Jews, and campus rabbi, Ed Rosenthal, to make the morning meeting. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council would like to gain a better understanding of what’s happening on the water.
All anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel are required to obtain the State Reef Fish Angler designation. Those with a Gulf Reef Fish Angler designation will meet the statewide requirement until the Gulf designation expires, even if you are fishing on the Atlantic coast.
State: Must have heads and fins intact through landing Gear rules require circle hooks and hooking tools in Gulf waters reef fish fisheries.
Note: In the Atlantic reef fish fishery, gear rules require hooking tools, and as of Jan. 1, 2021, non-stainless steel hooks in all state waters, and non-offset circle hooks N. of 28 ° N. latitude. Several species of Gulf grouper (red, black, scamp, yellow fin and yellow mouth) are closed Feb. 1-March 31 seaward of the 20-fathom break.
Recreational anglers are encouraged to use electronic charting equipment to plot the 20-fathom break by entering the established coordinates listed on the map below into a route. Monroe County: Several species of Atlantic grouper (red, black, yellow fin, yellow mouth, scamp, rock hind, red hind, Coney and grays by) are closed Jan. 1 – April 30 in all state and federal waters of the Atlantic including all state waters off Monroe County (Atlantic and Gulf sides).
During this closure, anglers can harvest grouper in open federal waters of the Gulf and return to port in Monroe County by traveling through closed state waters of the Atlantic as long as the vessel proceeds directly to port without stopping to fish. Western boundary of the 4-county gag grouper recreational harvest region.
Eastern boundary of the 4-county gag grouper recreational harvest region. The giant of the grouper family, the Goliath (formerly called Jewish) has brown or yellow mottling with small black spots on the head and fins, a large mouth with jawbones that extend well past its small eyes, and a rounded tail.
The skeletal structure of large Goliath grouper cannot adequately support their weight out of the water without some type of damage. If a large Goliath is brought on-board a vessel or out of the water, it is likely to sustain some form of internal injury and therefore be considered harvested.
Goliath grouper populations declined throughout their range during the 1970s and 1980s due to increased fishing pressure from commercial and recreational fishers and divers. There have been increases in abundance in certain areas (e.g., Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor and the Ten A Thousand Islands), and the distribution of Goliath grouper populations has extended into areas of its former range throughout Florida, including the Big Bend and Panhandle regions.
Stock assessment were conducted for Goliath grouper in 2004 and 2010, but both were rejected by a review panel for use in federal management. At their July 2014 meeting in Key Largo, this committee reviewed the most up-to-date scientific information on Goliath grouper and recommended a new stock assessment for this species.
As a result, the most recent stock assessment, conducted by the FCC was completed in June 2016 (Sedan 47). The stock assessment indicates abundance in south Florida has greatly increased since the fishery closed in 1990.
However, in the final step of the review process, the assessment was rejected by an independent panel of scientists for use in federal management due to a lack of reliable indicators of abundance outside south Florida. Goliath are also susceptible to large scale mortality events such as cold temperatures and red tide blooms.
Before the Goliath grouper reaches full-size it is preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel and moray eels, as well as sandbar and hammerhead sharks. Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, with other invertebrate species and fish filling in the rest.
Reproductive maturity first occurs in fish 5 or 6 years of age (about 36 inches in length) due to their slow growth rate. These groups occur at consistent sites such as wrecks, rock ledges and isolated patch reefs during July, August and September.
Studies have shown fish may move up to 62 miles (100 km) from inshore reefs to these spawning sites. In southwest Florida, presumed courtship behavior has been observed during the full moons in August and September.
The FCC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) manages the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean differently, and it’s important to know what’s in season and what toucan harvest from each shoreline. The Gulf of Mexico is a unique body of water that provides commercial and recreational anglers plenty of fishing opportunities.
The Gulf covers most of Florida ’s west coast, from Pensacola in the Panhandle to the start of the Everglades at the tip of the peninsula. This is important to keep in mind as there are different regulations for what’s in season and what toucan harvest depending on if you ’re in state or federal waters.
For Gag Grouper fishing in the Gulf, it’s important to note what county you ’re embarking from. For counties of Franklin, Weibull, Taylor and Jefferson (in the Panhandle area from Apalachicola to Steinhatchee) there is open season in state waters from April 1 to June 30, and again from September 1 to December 31.
Black, Red, Scamp, Yellow fin and Yellow mouth Grouper all have similar regulations in the Gulf. It’s open season in both state and federal waters for Rock Hind, Coney, Yellow edge and Snowy Groupers.
Toucan ask your charter captain if the size you have is a keeper or not; or refer to the FCC regulations to make sure you ’re staying compliant. Now moving east to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean where there are excellent opportunities for grouper fishing.
Keep in mind, the FCC considers the Everglades and Florida Keys as part of the Atlantic Ocean waters, and all fishing done in these areas must stay within Atlantic-specific regulations. From the Florida Keys to Jacksonville, anglers have hundreds of cities to choose from to launch your grouper expedition.
The real question is, what subspecies of grouper you ’ll find at the end of your line. The season runs until December 31, and each angler can collect one or the other each trip within the 3 grouper aggregate.
Eddie sat down on the deck and braced his foot against the rail, I figured we were into a big one. When his hat fell off, and he started to make grunting sounds, I was sure of it.
Eddie looked up at me with a twisted smile and was just hanging onto the rod for dear life. Something was living in this wreck 10 miles off southwest Florida, and whatever it was had already beaten us up several times.
But on this day we were maxed out on gear big enough to crank one of these monsters up ... if only Capt. This started out innocently enough a few weeks earlier when a couple of fishing buddies and I dropped a live pinkish on 30# mono down on a wreck 50 feet deep looking for a grouper dinner.
Something big grabbed it, screamed out about 40 feet of drag, got into the wreck and cut the line on something sharp. Something wolfed down the pinkish and took line like the rod was tied to a dragster.
The rod bent over 180 degrees, the back of the boat went down 6 inches, and the 150# braid snapped like a rifle shot. I asked the guys in the local bait shops if they knew any captains up for the task of fishing for seemingly unwatchable monsters.
The Goliath, once called the Jewish, is the biggest member of the grouper family. The winds of spring kept us inshore for a couple of weeks, so we enjoyed the opportunity to fish the bridges for pompano and sea trout.
It finally took a rig spooled with 150# braid, a 500# mono top shot, and huge #16 circle hook under 2 ounces of lead to bring a Goliath to the surface. Eddie's wreck, and he pulled a big Spanish mackerel out of his cooler, the one bait he said Goliath can 't refuse.
It was a short, furious, and profane battle, a hard fought back-and-forth fish fight, exciting to watch with an uncertain end. Eddie prevailed, and suddenly a giant brown fish appeared on the surface and lay at the side of the boat as exhausted as Capt.
On the next calm day I returned to my wreck lying now in water so clear you could see its dark silhouette on the white sand bottom 50 feet below. I went over the side to find an old shrimper torn apart by hurricanes and fishermen's anchors, its wheelhouse barely recognizable.
And then they appeared, slowly emerging from the shadows of broken masts and rigging. A fearless giant Goliath carries the remnants of three different rigs ripped from fishermen.
Three fishing rigs hung from his mouth, one still with its sinker, medals of recent battles won, and then I recognized one of my rigs, the 150# braid to a black swivel to 200# mono, hanging out of the left side of his mouth. There was the proof: These were the bad boys that had beat us up, and a few other fishermen, too, by the looks of it.
I returned to the surface knowing those hooks will soon rust and the line will fall away, and these Goliath's will own this wreck for many years to come. Goliath grouper can be found across the Caribbean from Central America, around the Gulf, and up the Atlantic to the Carolina's, but they are most plentiful in Florida.