Occurs when a fish's swim bladder expands too fast for the fish to regulate, causing pressure within the fish’s body cavity. It is the responsibility of every angler to know when and how to vent a reef fish in order for the fish to be able to safely swim back to his home.
I’ve had the fortune to dive with these experts many times, and it's hard to describe what it’s like to be 50 to 90 feet below the surface in clear, blue warm water swimming with 70 or so groupers that are almost all bigger than a man. The technology is basically the same as what’s used when you swipe your groceries at a cash register: When X grouper swims past one of the receivers, the device scans and identifies the fish.
The goliathgrouper fishes are now on the move, headed toward the wrecks and reefs off Jupiter, Home Sound and Stuart where they aggregate to spawn, primarily in late July through early September. After nearly becoming extinct, the fish was afforded legal protection enacted in 1990.
Twenty years later, the protection is finally starting to pay off. Divers and underwater photographers visit a shipwreck in Florida where Goliath Groupers gather to spawn every year.
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Goliath grouper are curious and fearless, characteristics that have made them easy targets for fishers, especially when the fish gather in large numbers in July and August to mate. That fishing pressure, coupled with degradation of the mangrove habitats that juvenile goliathgrouper need to survive, has driven a dramatic decline in the species throughout its range, which includes the Florida Keys in the United States, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean and most of the Brazilian coast.
Based on their findings, Piney Marcos’ team recommended that the government ban fishing of goliathgrouper at the Sardines de la Ran spawning aggregation site and establish a minimum legal size of 110 centimeters (about 43 inches). “This is an excellent example of putting science into action by a leading Cuban marine scientist,” said professor Ken Lineman of the Florida Institute of Technology.
The government went a step further, declaring it illegal to catch and keep a goliathgrouper in Cuban waters without an environmental license for research and conservation actions. Through an international exchange, scientists working to protect goliathgrouper in the broader Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems are using research from Piney Marcos and his team.
On August 26th, Joshua Anyzeski caught the prohibited species, removing it from the water to take a picture. The picture circulated on social media, which tipped off officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article. These voracious fish make many an angler feel slung into the biblical role of David, battling a much larger adversary that can grow eight feet long and up to 800 pounds, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
“They have pretty much taken over the reefs,” said Ron Rincóns, a retired Grant-Valkaria charter captain who's seen the Goliath come and go over six decades in Florida. At Wednesday's meeting, FCC staff will provide the commission a review of the biology and recently-completed study of the fish's population.
Years of commercial divers overfishing them almost did the Goliath in by 1990, but fishermen say this top predator has bounced back with a vengeance, clearing reefs of other fish and lobsters, anything they can vacuum up with their mammoth mouths. They describe seeing so many Goliath along Florida's reefs and shipwrecks that it's high time to remove the long-running ban on harvesting the fish.
“They'll eat permits ... anything that's easy ... anything that's smaller than them,” said Greg Simmons, a sport fishermen in Fort Pierce. That year, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council banned spearing of goliathgrouper.
But the report also cited a long-term lack of landings data, rendering the assessment inconclusive and the stock status mostly unknown. And that's a glimmer of hope for fishing guides, such as Maker, who just wants fewer clever Goliath around to swipe away catches.
Grayson Shepard was spearfishing for snapper at a shipwreck site in June when he captured a startling video of several Goliath groupers trying to take his catch. In the new video, the Goliath appear to become the hunters themselves, stalking Shepard and waiting for just the right moment to grab the fish.
They probably know his boat by the sound of it,” says R. Grant Gilmore, a fish ecologist at the Florida-based company Estuaries, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc. Gilmore, who has studied the fish for decades, says Goliath groupers are ambush predators that “prey predominantly on slow-moving animals.
Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, also suggested looking at the incident from the fish's perspective. “As frustrating as it is to lose my catch to them, I respect the laws protecting Goliath and will never physically harm or kill them,” he says.
“As apex predators, Goliath fill a niche in that ecosystem in which I am just a temporary visitor. Live-aboard touring in the Bahamas can be attractive to serious divers: lots of dives, reasonable prices, shorter flights than abroad, Florida departures ... you know the drill.
One of our traveling reviewers, Doc Viking, ventured out on two boats with different itineraries and reports whether these would be good options for you. The BAII is a substantial aluminum catamaran whose 90-foot length and 31-foot beam scream stability, while two monstrous diesels propel it at upwards of 22 knots.
It covers the often-rough 50 miles from Port Dania to Bimini customs in three hours, and cruises so serenely that I could have slept the entire way. As it was easy to spot, photogenic and reassuring, I enjoyed ending my dives by gently surfacing between the bodacious pontoons.
The upper deck houses a largely uncovered sundeck and an air-conditioned dining salon and lounge with a TV, VCR and stereo. Our group of 25 occupied all the boat’s four double bed cabins and ten twin bunk quarters, which were about standard size for linerboards.
With the upper bunk and area under the lower bed, I had plenty of storage room (empty luggage could be stored elsewhere). There are no ensuite bathrooms, though showers (plenty of hot water) and toilets (which are kept clean) were usually available without an undue wait.
A compartment beneath each diver’s seating area, as well as hanger racks allowed for convenient stashing of kits. The dive deck walkways are narrow, and we filled the available space, though the leisurely pace kept suiting up from becoming unmanageable.
Hot fills of the boat’s steel 72s often cooled to less than 2,800 psi, which did not cut it with me as I use air liberally and fancy long dives. Moor at a site, drop to 30 to 50 feet, swim around a mostly featureless and unhealthy looking reef, and surface when you’re ready.
In fact, I found the topography so ho-hum that I broke out Paul Human’s book on “Reef Coral Identification” and went to work on the algae section -- a sure indicator of desperation. Without massive plate corals, tube sponges or other goodies that make the “Tongue” a delight in other locations, I found no point in accumulating much of a nitrogen load.
Consisting of several pieces of disconnected, badly rusted metal spread along a sand and turtle grass bottom at 20 feet, it greatly disappointed. I enjoyed a juvenile spotted drum and gray angelfish, a massive terminal phase blue parrot fish, and a colony of yellow head jaw fish popping like steam from a calliope.
On the Fish Bowl, I spotted both an Almach jack and a small Yahoo, not creatures one expects to see on a shallow reef. At Truck Lagoon off Chub Cay, a large school of ballyhoo remained uncharacteristically still just beneath the surface.
I seldom saw Captain Roger, though the smooth mechanical stirrings throughout the boat and its excellent state of repair bespoke his presence. Two mates served ably, if laconically, busing meals, helping divers, and flushing away “the presents” left by the BAII s resident canines, Wiki and Copy.
Breakfasts ranged from spinach frittata to scrambled eggs, sausage patties and bagels to fresh blueberry rolls. Dinners, from grouper to Beef Burgoyne, were accompanied by fresh green salads and desserts such as hot brownies with ice cream.
Sodas, beer, wine and hard spirits were reasonably priced at the honor system “Narcosis Lounge.” On our first night out, Erika ceded dinner to the group’s preeminent character, “Pig man.” When not off diving in his red, white and blue skin or modeling women’s tropical wear, this Prince of Pulled Pork serves up the most toothsome barbecue in the Kill Devil Hills, NC environs.
And speaking of nice touches, how ineffably sweet it was to rise in the morning to Erika singing a gentle tune and playing the chimes. There was an unusual amount of filamentous algae of a sickly grayish green hue, which has been around San Salvador for decades and in other areas as well.
After a few dives, the inlet filter on my serviced regulator bore the telltale brown dust of internal tank corrosion. At the end of July, I boarded a second vessel of the bring-your-own-towel type, the MV Sea Fever, for a trip to Cay Sal Bank, which is between the Florida Keys and the north coast of Cuba.
About 115 miles south of Bimini, it’s dotted with desolate little stone islands that serve as nesting grounds for shear waters and a refugee for fleeing Cubans awaiting clandestine pick-ups to Miami. Its three 12-cylinder diesels (you’d need some serious bad luck to get stranded by engine failure) provide a cruising speed of 16 knots with a top end around 21.
Doing duty as a live-aboard for more than 20 years, this aging but adequately maintained converted oil crew boat holds up to 16 passengers in seven lower deck cabins, each with central A/C and a small (but operational) sink. The 22 bodies (which included six crew) had to adjust their constitutionals to the three heads (two with showers, plus a fresh water hose on the rear deck).
The head that shared a common wall with my cabin (#4) has a commode elevated on a throne-like arrangement to cover a pump whose vigorous whirls irritatingly roused me most mornings. Making the Sea Fever’s 8 a.m. departure from the Sunny Isles section of northern Miami means one should stay the previous night at one of the mid scale motels that line Collins Avenue.
So, off to the motel bar (no charge for a stool) where generous rounds of Cuba Libras and Coronas expedited bonding within the group of 16 handpicked divers. From a ready-for-romance salesman who carried a comb while diving to present his best image as he rose from the depths, to a foreman from rural mid-America who donned clean white overalls, T-shirt and sneakers on dress occasions, group members proved to be capable of looking after themselves underwater.
Captain James, on board for more than two years, though a bit detached from his passengers, was clearly a whiz at matters mechanical. He competently attended to various breakdowns, such as when, during a rough crossing, a massive spare prop fell from its space, knocking out a section of water pipe.
The jewel of the crew, known as Red man for obvious reasons, was an old salt with Navy SEAL experience, and had coffee and a “good morning” brewing at 5 a.m. daily. Breakfast might be blueberry pancakes, omelets, or waffles, with bacon, ham or sausage, and a side of orange slices.
A large gear rinse bucket and one dedicated to photo equipment pleased the picture buffs, as did the carpeted, four-tiered camera table. But, it was nice to have the freedom to dive as one wished, though that can mean that some suicidal diver might be on board, such as the repeat guest who seemed sold on Sea Fever because the crew either didn’t notice or weren’t bothered by his near obsessional need to break 200 feet at least once a day.
Next stop was the Black Hole, an abyssal formation circled on the inside by the occasional Caribbean reef shark. Only 25 to 30 feet, Dog Rock has patch reef, coral heads and swim-throughs, but was exceptional thanks to silver sides in the tens of thousands.
Surrounded by vibrant green, yellow and purple sea fans, I kneeled on the sand in transcendent silence as the little fish enveloped me like so many splattering of mercury. Next morning’s plunge at Rope on the Wall, where I briskly drifted at 95 feet, yielded one of my best creature sightings ever: what had to be a 500 lb.
A later 10-to-15 foot dive at Blue Lagoon, a site I called Fry Central, exploded with dazzling pis cine youngsters. Three bar jacks and a great barracuda, working like marine-herding dogs with a school of scad, maneuvered the flitting mass of polarized quicksilver into a fatigued bait ball.
The Com pleat Angler, a favorite of Hemingway while he penned “Islands in the Stream,” is paneled in dark wood adorned with photos of him. Its band plays Caribbean-style music to swaying Jimmy Buffett souls searching for a moment of meaningless connection.
Diving at Bimini on our last day included a nice drift deep along Tuna Alley where I passed through enchanting schools of actively feeding Creole wrasse, yellow fin snapper, blue chromes and black surgeons. Sea Fever’s Website advertises this itinerary as having deep wall dives, seven blue holes and blowhole caves where one can scuba through and surface within the island.
Diver’s Compass: BAII runs a number of itineraries, including dedicated whale and dolphin trips. Don’t go if you are not comfortable with two pleasant and clean dogs occasionally begging in the eating area and relieving themselves on the dive deck.
phone (800)234-8464, fax (954)920-5578 ... Sea Fever runs three itineraries, including interactive dolphin encounters and Cay Sal Bank.