Will Florida allow goliath grouper fishing? – Florida Today
One of Florida’s largest fish— the goliath grouper — could once again become the ultimate “keeper” as soon as next year.
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.
Nearly speared out of existence, goliath grouper have been closed to harvest since 1990. But better numbers in recent years could once again open up the fish to limited harvest. That’s a welcome prospect for anglers routinely robbed by goliaths that gobble up their catches shamelessly.
“They have pretty much taken over the reefs,” said Ron Rincones, a retired Grant-Valkaria charter captain who’s seen the goliath come and go over six decades in Florida. “My belief is that they far exceed numbers now than they did in the ’50s and ’60s.”
State wildlife officials will discuss the fish’s fate when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meets Feb. 8-10 in Crystal River.
There is no specific proposal yet to allow the goliath’s harvest. At Wednesday’s meeting, FWC staff will provide the commission a review of the biology and recently-completed study of the fish’s population.
“This is a review and discussion on the history, biology and recent stock assessment,” Amanda Nalley, an FWC spokeswoman said by email. “FWC will be asking the Commission whether or not staff should pursue gathering further public input on potential management changes, including the possibility of allowing some kind of limited harvest.”
If directed by the commission, staff will bring a draft rule for consideration in September and a final rule in December, Nalley added. “That would mean any regulatory changes approved by the Commission in December would go into effect, at the earliest, in 2018,” she said.
Biologists say they need to learn more about the goliath’s life cycle, how big they get, low long they live, how many are caught and released, and how much of a hurt past commercial fishing inflicted on the fish. 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 have become a nuisance,” said Mike Maher, a Vero Beach fishing guide who fishes out of Sebastian Inlet. ”There should be some sort of a harvest on them.”
Now divers and fishermen say they’ve seen enough. They describe seeing so many goliaths 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. He thinks the state should allow harvesting 10- to 50-pound goliaths, leaving the larger reproducers alone.
“I don’t think it should be completely open season where you could harvest a zillion of them,” Simmons said.
A 2014 University of Florida study of what fishermen and others thought about the fish found that most supported continuing the closure but favored some limited harvest of the fish for research purposes.
Before 1983, there were no state or federal regulations on commercial or recreational harvest of the fish. That year, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council banned spearing of goliath grouper. Then in 1990, harvest of the fish was banned in state and federal waters.
The previous stock assessment in 2010 found that that the stock might be recovered, according to the staff report. But the report also cited a long-term lack of landings data, rendering the assessment inconclusive and the stock status mostly unknown.
Models used in the 2016 stock assessment showed a declining trend in relative stock abundance after 2012, possibly because of cold spells in 2008 and 2010 in South Florida. But the models also found the goliath is no longer overfished.
And that’s a glimmer of hope for fishing guides, such as Maher, who just wants fewer clever goliaths around to swipe away catches. The goliaths snatch the snook right out of his hand, or wait until he releases exhausted fish, making a mockery of catch-and-release. It happened Wednesday, he said, when a several hundred pound goliath got the best of him, stealing a 10-pound snook right out of his hand.
“Something needs to be done. It’s horrible,” Maher said.
Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JWayEnviro
Feb. 8-9, 2017 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting:
Time: 8:30 a.m. each day
Dates: Feb. 8 – 9, 2017
Where: Plantation on Crystal River, 9301 West Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, Florida
See a video of a goliath grouper swallowing a shark whole here: