The longest verified life span for a goliathgrouper on record is 37 years, according to the aquarium. They live mostly in shallow tropical waters among coral reefs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys to the Caribbean.
Harvesting the species in the southeast U.S. was prohibited in 1990, allowing the goliathgrouper to rebound. Editor’s note: This story was updated with the latest information about Cleats’ likely cause of death from the Florida Aquarium.
They make great targets for our captains, and clients love the excitement and anticipation of battling a true sea monster. Although an experienced Tampa fishing guide maneuvering the boat correctly can make the fisherman’s job much easier.
Unlike a lot of the other larger species that roam our oceans the Jewish is a true bottom dweller actually living inside of reef caves, sunken boats or any kind of hole they can hide inside. It was caught many years ago in 1961 when the species was severely over fished commercially, and the season was finally closed to harvest in 1990.
It is only due to the closed harvest that the GoliathGrouper world record has not been officially broken. More than likely if the harvest was reopened, it wouldn’t be long before the world record would increase in pounds.
Tampa fishing guides all have their preferred king of bait, which range from whole Mackerel, Jacks, King fish, and False Albacore and yes, even sting rays. Though big ones can be caught on much lighter gear and might evolve into long-drawn-out battles.
The bait is then lowered down to the Giant Grouper, and much of the time it doesn’t even make it to the bottom before it’s eaten. The battle can last from ten minutes to an hour all depending on the size fish and the man or woman pulling.
GoliathGrouper fishing is so exciting there are few angling experiences that can mimic the anticipation of the bite and the glow of the massive beast down deep as he is battled to the boat. The feeling of getting to see and touch one of these huge fish up close is extremely exhilarating; along with the release knowing you both gave it your all and now it is time to part ways and both go home.
So the announcement this week that the 5½-foot-long, 300-pound grouper had died was met with hundreds of condolences on the aquarium's Facebook page. “We are saddened to announce the loss our beloved goliathgrouper Cleats after succumbing to a prolonged illness,” posted The Florida Aquarium.
“Cleats was one of the most recognizable animals at the Florida Aquarium, coming eye to bulging eye with millions of guests since day one,” said Florida Aquarium president and CEO Roger German Tuesday. As of Wednesday, 360 people had posted comments about Cleats on the aquarium's Facebook page including former employees and volunteers who had close contact with the giant fish.
“We are so sad,” said PIL Cliff, posting various photos from over the years of her children with Cleats. After being closed for nearly two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Florida Aquarium, 705 Channel side Drive, announced it will reopen Friday, May 15, with limited attendance and programming, along with new standard operating procedures and enhanced health and safety measures to safeguard guests, staff and animals.
“After nearly eight weeks of being closed to the public, we are excited to reopen our doors to fulfill our mission as well as support TampaBay's healing process now that our state and region has begun the reopening process,” said German. “We are grateful for The Florida Aquarium's continued support to protect the health and safety of those in our community.
By implementing added safety measures and capacity limits, The Florida Aquarium is taking a smart and phased approach to reopening responsibly,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “I urge visitors to practice safe social distancing, wash your hands, wear a face-covering in congested areas, and keep the health of our vulnerable neighbors in mind.
Along with attendance limits that support physical distancing, other health and safety initiatives include online ticket sales only, touchless transactions, staff required to wear masks in public spaces and enhanced cleaning methods. Several interactive experiences, such as the outdoor play area and animal touch exhibits, will remain temporarily closed.
From conducting a deep clean of all exhibits to removing unnecessary touchpoints to requiring online ticket sales, The Florida Aquarium is well-prepared to provide a safe, clean and fun experience for our guests,” said Andy Wood, The Florida Aquarium chief operating officer. “Humans and the natural world are more disconnected than ever, especially during the 'safer at home' timeframe, and studies show that the human-animal-nature bond plays a role supporting public health,” German said.
“A visit to The Florida Aquarium is good for mental and emotional well-being, and we are ready to welcome our guests back to provide these positive health benefits.” Tampa bay is loaded with GoliathGrouper especially since the ban put into effect over 20 years ago.
Although they must be returned to the ocean, they make great fighters and are true trophies for someone who wants to do battle with a giant fish. There’s a good chance angler Jay Cross has spent more time on the Skyway Fishing Piers than anyone else over the past few years.
Over the past few weeks Cross has seen quite a few big gags coming over the rails of the fishing pier. In addition to smaller grouper, Cross, and his friends who frequently fish the pier known as the Skyway Misfits Crew, enjoy playing tug of war with the bigger Goliath that now frequent the pier.
He makes 400-pound wire leaders that are 10-feet long, giving the abrasiveness needed against massive sharks like bulls and hammerheads they target. On a recent night, Cross’s friend Jake Covington borrowed one of his leaders, but found himself tangled up to another one of the bridge’s Goliath.
Cross, who was working at the time, closed up the bait shop and went to assist the release of the massive goliathgrouper. “We have a rope that we used to pull in big sharks up to 400 pounds on the bridge to release them.
In a scene that looked like it was from the movie “Mission: Impossible,” Cross dangles from the rope around his waist with pliers in hand. The fish kicks away, and Cross is pulled back to the bridge.
When targeting Goliath, Cross uses a 900H Diana on a broomstick-esque rod allowing him to winch them up. He pinches the barb down on those hooks, allowing an easier release on the Goliath he’s landed up to 300 pounds.
In February, they petitioned the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to allow a limited open season on the goliathgrouper. Jim Like, owner of the fishing charter Light Tackle Adventures.
“I'm not convinced that they have recovered from their threatened status as much as people like to say they have,” said Dennis Monroe, founder of Gulfport Dive School, a scuba club. Their hopes were raised in 2016 when a stock assessment by the wildlife commission found that the goliathgrouper's population had recovered in South Florida.
Those hopes were subsequently dashed that same year when an independent panel of scientists rejected the assessment due to its limited geographical scope, which covered only South Florida. But it shouldn't necessarily be applied to a judgment about state waters, said commission spokeswoman Amanda Valley.
“The assessment was rejected for use in federal management due to a lack of data on abundance outside of South Florida,” she said. The commission in February looked at a proposal to create a four-year paid lottery allowing 100 people a year to harvest a single goliathgrouper.
That was the word handed down by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Thursday at its meeting in Fort Lauderdale. Following three hours of public comment produced by 56 registered speakers, the seven-member governor-appointed volunteer commission decided to not open a harvest for Goliath grouper at this time.
It remains critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list. The FCC completed a stock assessment in 2016 and in 2017 directed staff to explore whether there was an option or demand to open the fishery for limited harvest.
Tom Ingram of Tallahassee, president of the Diving Education and Marketing Association, was the first speaker Thursday during the public comment phase of the meeting. He urged commissioners to continue protection of the Goliath grouper, likening it to the manatee, another beloved iconic Florida creature, which also happens to be slow moving and requires close management to keep its population numbers robust.
Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, of Becker College in the Tampa area, who leads a small group of people who believe in faith-based conservation and call themselves the Scuba Jews, actually read Hebrew to the commissioners. He and several of his students requested the commission consider that the fish are there for a bigger purpose than just to catch or harvest.
Trip Augean, of Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, said the recreational angling organization supports a limited harvest of Goliath grouper. Chris Koenig, of Florida State University's Coastal and Marine Laboratory, said the Goliath grouper is being impacted by too many other issues to risk its numbers from opening a harvest.
For triple tail, the minimum size limit was increased from 15 to 18 inches, and all FCC recreational and commercial regulations for this species will extend into federal waters. On the first day of meetings Wednesday, commissioners directed FCC staff to develop draft regulations concerning the fishing for large sharks from Florida beaches.