The giant GoliathGrouper is arguably the most dramatic member of the Grouper family, and large mature specimens are kings of the reef, with no natural predators. The GoliathGrouper is the largest member of the sea bass family found in the western Atlantic, reaching weights of 800 lbs.
Its body is elongated but robust, with the widest point measuring more than half the fish’s total length. Goliath's are generally brownish yellow, gray, or olive-colored, with small dark spots on head, body, and fins.
GoliathGrouper Habitat and Behavior Goliath Groupers range the shallow, inshore tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida through the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and south along nearly the entire Brazilian coastline. Goliath Groupers typically inhabit natural and artificial reefs in water depths of 16 to 160 feet.
They prefer areas that have rock, coral, and mud bottoms along with high-relief features such as ledges, caves, and holes that can provide refuge. The Goliath is one of the few groupers that inhabit brackish waters, with juveniles commonly found around mangroves and in estuaries, especially near oyster bars.
Goliath Groupers are solitary fish and adults are territorial near their areas of refuge, displaying an open mouth and quivering body to intruders and sometimes producing an audible rumbling sound via muscular contractions of the swim bladder. Goliath Groupers are ambush feeders that prey mostly on crustaceans such as spiny lobsters, shrimps, and crabs.
The difference with the Goliath is that specialized ultra-heavy tackle will be needed if there is to be any chance of bringing a fish boat side. A Rawest college student learned a hard lesson about Florida wildlife law this week, police said.
Joshua David Anyzeski, 18, was jailed Monday after state fish and wildlife officers said he removed a Goliath grouper from the water, so he could pose for a photo with it. He was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possession of a Goliath grouper, booked into the Stock Island Detention Center and released the same day after posting a $7,500 bond.
A Rawest college student got arrested after sharing this photo with friends in a group text. “The lagoon is a classroom space where we teach diving and marine science classes,” said Amber Ernst-Leonard, the college’s spokeswoman.
Anyzeski got in trouble after sending the photo of him holding the Goliath grouper to friends in a group text to brag about snagging the fish, according to the report. On Aug. 28, FCC investigators went to Anyzeski’s dorm room at the College of the Florida Keys to speak with him about the photo.
Asked if Anyzeski is in trouble with the school for the catch, Ernst-Leonard said the college does not comment on student disciplinary cases. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
The giant GoliathGrouper is arguably one the most dramatic fish spotted on Rawest scuba diving trips. Goliath Groupers range the shallow tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida, through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and south along nearly the entire Brazilian coastline.
It is the largest member of the Sea Bass family found in the western Atlantic, reaching weights of 800 lbs. Goliath Groupers typically inhabit natural and artificial reefs in water depths of 16 to 160 feet, preferring areas that have rock, coral, or mud bottoms and high-relief features such as ledges, caves, and holes that can provide refuge.
Also, Goliath groupers are consuming large numbers of spiny lobster, a major cash crop, supporters of opening the fishery say. They believe fishermen would quickly wipe out the species by targeting them on wrecks and artificial reefs, and by spearing the slow-moving fish that has no fear of divers.
Representatives will meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Kissimmee and will receive an update from the members of a committee currently researching whether to allow a scientific or recreational harvest of the fish. The committee, which comprises FCC and South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils, has recommended keeping the ban on harvest for now.
Vast technological improvements in spear guns and diving equipment in the 1960s and 1970s made no wreck, cave or hole safe for Goliath groupers to hide. Image: brown taxidermy.composer Keys commercial fisherman and diver Don Maria was one of the biggest slayers of the Goliath grouper, stalking them with his spear gun for years.
The fish do not spawn for the first six to seven years of their lives, making recovery for the species slow, said Chris Koenig, one of the leading researchers in the field of Goliath grouper. The ban came in “response to indications that the population abundance throughout its range was greatly depressed,” according to the federal protection law.
No one knows exactly how many are left compared to their historical numbers, but the Goliath grouper is recognized as a “critically endangered” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In the last five years, there has been a growing movement to reopen the fishery, as fishermen blame the large predators for stealing their catch.
“We can no longer catch groupers and snappers off the wrecks of the Gulf (of Mexico) because they are eating them,” Rawest charter boat Capt. “They are having an impact.” Gonzalez proposes that fishery managers open the Goliath grouper to a limited take in which anglers pay $1,000 for a tag with the proceeds going to research, he said.
Committee member John Sanchez proposes a limited take with a slot size of 32 to 48 inches to keep the larger breeding fish alive, he said. Sanchez did not propose any specific bag limit or a lottery system like Florida uses with alligator hunting.
“You leave the known aggregations alone,” said Sanchez, who fishes out of Homestead and serves on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. A 2012 study by scientist Sarah Friars found that Goliath groupers are not the cause for declining lobster and snapper stocks.
Many dive operators specifically take their clients to wrecks and other areas inhabited by Goliath groupers as their sheer size amazes many divers. Scientists agree, goliathgrouper are not able to chase down fish for their typical meal. In January, Upper Keys dive charter boat operator Spencer Slate made an impassioned plea to the Ad How GoliathGrouper Committee to keep the fishery closed.
He showed committee members several large hooks and spear tips that he and other divers had extracted from the mouths and heads of Goliath groupers. Federal and state fishery managers admit they do not know enough about the life history or the population numbers of the lumbering beast.
He has been able to obtain life history data on the grouper by taking a small sample of the Finlay of the fish, and by placing tracking tags on it. Some 600 Goliath grouper samples have been collected, 200 short of the goal fishery managers have said would be a statistically valid study, Koenig said.
Koenig also argues that simply allowing fishermen to catch them without strict parameters on where and how many should be caught would do little good for science. Many Goliath groupers start their lives in mangrove habitats before moving to coral reefs, wrecks and other areas offshore.
Researchers have begun to raise red flags about mercury levels in Goliath grouper, as state and federal fishery managers debate allowing the fish as table fare. The South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FCC) have formed a committee to discuss possibly allowing a limited recreational or scientific harvest of the grouper.
The fish were collected after they died during cold snaps, or were illegally caught and confiscated directly by FCC law enforcement officers. Lower Keys spear-fisherman Don Maria argued the Goliath grouper is listed as endangered everywhere throughout its range and has not recovered to acceptable levels.
“This fish is worth much more alive than dead to the recreational dive industry,” said Maria, citing an argument that many Florida Keys diver operators have continually made. Rawest deep sea fishing requires advanced knowledge of navigation, weather patterns and safety precautions.
Multiple outriggers and down riggers help increase the chances for a good catch since different species swim at different depths. January – February – March Plentiful bait fish and the mild temperature in the Florida Keys this time of year bring a strong variety of fish species.
July – August – September The warm water off the shores of the Florida Keys keeps big game fish in strong numbers. October – November – December Although the cooler fall months are a great choice for a full day of sport fishing in Rawest.
Warm weather means a continuation of the large variety and high numbers of fish found during the summer months. If a brisk weather front moves in, you can still count on landing game fish like: Barracuda, Bonito, Black fin Tuna, King fish, Snapper, Sailfish, Shark, Spanish Mackerel and Yahoo.