“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. On August 26th, Joshua Anyzeski caught the prohibited species, removing it from the water to take a picture.
These fish are the largest of the Grouper family and their size has rightfully earned the name GOLIATH ! Knowing how to identify them will save you a lot of headache in the long run.
Here are a few things that will make the Goliath Grouper easy to identify: Unfortunately Goliath Grouper have been protected since 1990 in both state and Federal waters.
The fish must be returned to the water immediately free, alive, and unharmed Photographs can be taken but only during the active act of release. 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. Removing smaller Goliath groupers from the water to remove hooks is not necessarily a bad practice, but this process must be done with care, using proper fish handling techniques, and the fish must be returned to the water as expeditiously as possible.
Like any wild animal, Goliath Grouper are most dangerous when they feel threatened or when they are hungry. Goliath Grouper have huge mouths and can swallow large fish whole.
This exact scenario is actually the basis for a lot of shark encounters as well for divers and spear fisherman. If you do catch a Goliath Grouper and jump in the water with them for a picture, remember, their sheer size and strength can injure you if they were to start slashing around.
You will find them near reefs, shipwrecks, rock ledges, old phosphate docks, etc. They live in shallow water up to around 150 feet deep and hold tight to the structure mentioned above.
The current world record for Goliath Grouper is 680 pounds and was caught off the coast of Florida at Fernanda Beach in 1961. There have been a lot of very large Goliath Grouper caught since 1961 when you were allowed to harvest and weigh the fish.
Many anglers argue new world records have been brought to the edge of their boat. Since anglers are not allowed to remove large Grouper from the ocean it is impossible to know their exact weight unfortunately.
One of the reasons Goliath Grouper populations are so threatened is because of their slow growth and re-population rates. Goliath Grouper males reach sexual maturity around the age of 4 – 6 years old.
At this age these fish are already around 4 ft long and would look like adults to many fishermen. When it is time to spawn, during the months of July, August, and September, these fish form groups of around 100 fish and all congregate at specific sites like shipwrecks, reefs, and rock ledges to spawn.
Goliath Grouper feed mostly on crustaceans like crab and lobster, fish, rays, and even sharks around the reef. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat live or dead bait as long as it is fresh, they really aren't all that picky.
Outside the US these fish are harder to find as they taste great and are not hard to spear. They are not shy and unlike most fish, will not be in a hurry to swim away, making them an easy target.
Bouncing your rig off the bottom a little to create some commotion will help them notice your bait. Make sure you have some good leather gloves when hand lining these massive fish.
Goliath Grouper put up a strong, but short-lived fight. The 50 wide should be sufficient to accommodate the 300 – 600 pound test mono you will need.
Rigging for Goliath Grouper isn't difficult just takes some heavy-duty line and crimps, about 16 ounces of weight and a 20/O Circle Hook. For Goliath Grouper you will want 600 pound test monofilament fishing line.
Its massive size and slow growth (it takes five to seven years for a grouper to become sexually mature) has made it highly susceptible to pressure from commercial and recreational fishing, which has led to its status as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Recently, the FCC conducted a stock assessment of the grouper’s numbers in Florida, and found it to be at much healthier levels than it was when first declared an endangered species.
However, the study was rejected for use in federal waters by an independent panel of scientists due to its limited scope, which only included South Florida. Due to the controversy around the issue, the FCC is hosting more than a dozen workshops to discuss the matter and to get a feel for public opinion.
Currently, one idea on the table is to create a four-year paid lottery that would allow 100 people each year to harvest one Goliath grouper. It would cost $300 to buy into, and the fish can only be caught by hook and line, with no commercial harvest or sale allowed.
Scientists are skeptical that the Goliath grouper has recovered enough to allow it to be killed, even in a limited fashion. Studies by Florida State University marine biologists in 2010 and 2011 found that the grouper is still being fished illegally and disagreed with anglers’ statements that the Goliath is a threat to their livelihood.
Furthermore, they found that Goliath improve reef diversity rather than threaten it, countering a claim that has been made by proponents of an open fishery. Regardless, anglers contend that they are competing with the grouper, saying that Goliath have snatched their catch from their lines as they were reeling them in.
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 Goliath grouper 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 Goliath grouper 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 Goliath grouper in Cuban waters without an environmental license for research and conservation actions. Through an international exchange, scientists working to protect Goliath grouper in the broader Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems are using research from Piney Marcos and his team.