Mar 3, 2022 - News

Wildlife officials to consider reopening Goliath grouper fishery

A grouper
A Goliath grouper at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will vote Thursday morning on whether to reopen the Goliath grouper fishery in state waters for the first time in 30 years.

What's happening: The rule change, pushed by a Key West developer who says the fishery has recovered, would allow the harvest of up to 200 Goliath grouper a year, with no more than 50 coming from Everglades National Park.

Why it matters: The Goliath grouper's slow growth, low reproductive rate and spawning behavior make it susceptible to overfishing, and it's recognized as "critically endangered" by the World Conservation Union.

  • Sport fishermen like catching them because it feels like playing tug-of-war with a car for an hour.
  • Dive charters take scuba groups offshore to observe spawning that could include as many as 25 behemoth grouper.

Flashback: The majestic fish β€” which can grow to be eight feet long and 800 pounds and is known to ambush scuba divers and steal huge catches from fishermen β€” has been protected since 1990, when overfishing depleted the population to a concerning level.

  • Goliath grouper live in inshore estuaries at birth, but when they grow they migrate to reefs or rocky areas near bridges, jetties and channels.

How it would work: The new rules would award one permit and tag to 200 people each year, picked via lottery.

The rub: It will cost $10 just to get in the lottery, and if you win, a permit costs $150 for residents and $500 for nonresidents.

The rules would also:

  • Establish a slot limit of 24-36 inches in total length, with hook-and-line as the only allowable gear.
  • Set an open harvest season of March to May.
  • Protect waters at Martin County, including the St. Lucie River and its tributaries, south through the Atlantic coast of Monroe County, and Dry Tortugas National Park.
  • Establish a requirement for harvesters to submit harvest and biological information.

Pros: The grouper have rebounded, overpopulation is harmful, and fishermen want them.

Cons: Dive tourism would take a hit, the population is still vulnerable, and eating them could be harmful due to high mercury levels.

If approved, the rule would go into effect July 1, but regulations could mean the first opportunity to bag a grouper would be March 2023.

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