Once a trophy fish found in abundant quantities off Florida, the docile and slow moving Atlantic Goliath Grouper was fished to near extinction in the 1980’s. In 1990, the fishing of Goliath Grouper was prohibited in US waters and in 1994 the IUCN “Red Listed” it as critically endangered, but today the Goliath Grouper is on the rebound.
After a 27 year fishing moratorium, this iconic fish is making a comeback. Florida officials are now considering a limited season for Goliath Grouper with discussions starting in April, but data on this Volkswagon-sized fish’s real recovery is weak.
Fishery managers need to know more about past population levels to determine if the Goliath Grouper has rebounded sufficiently to allow renewed Florida fishing of the species in 2018.
Using Historic Photos to Guide Today’s Decision
Loren McClenachan of Scripps Institution took a unique approach to determining historical Goliath population levels in Florida. She analyzed photos taken of fish caught on Key West charter boats from 1956 to 1985, then factored in FL Keys newspaper accounts of catches (1923-1977) which show decreases in both the maximum individual fish size and proportion of larger grouper caught before 1950. Below are photographs from the historical archives Loren analyzed.
Fish caught on the ‘Gulf Stream’ charter boat on (A) 14 April 1957 (B) 9 March 1958, and (C, D) between 1965 and 1979
Pressure from Commercial and Recreational Fishermen
Although many scientists agree that it’s current population would not last more than one, or perhaps two years after opening the fishery, there is tremendous pressure from recreational and commercial fishermen to allow harvesting. These fishers say the Goliaths are eating their catch even though studies show it is over-fishing that is causing fish declines and not the Goliath Grouper. (Goliaths are primarily low on the food chain eaters of crabs and fish they can literally suck up.)
Who will win this Goliathian battle? It may be that these words from The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will come in useful. Back in 1990, the SAFMC recognized that “the highest and best use of Goliath Grouper was non-consumptive use by divers, snorkelers, and the ocean ecosystem”; and for these reasons, they supported the fishery closure. We need to remind Fishery Decision-makers that Goliath Groupers are worth more alive than dead.
Worth More in the Water than on the Hook!
A single Goliath Grouper in the water is supporting local business to the tune of $36,500 per year, that’s more than a million dollars over its lifetime. One spawning aggregation alone, made by several Goliath Groupers, generates about half a million dollars a year for just one Florida dive business. Adding this economic fact to the scientific data may be what it takes to tip the scales to continue the protection of the Goliath Grouper. (photo – Randy Moore)
Please take a moment to tell the FWC to continue protections for the Goliath Grouper. Meetings are scheduled for April 25 and 26. You don’t have to live in Florida to leave a Public Comment at this link.
By Laurie Wilson, Blue Ocean Network
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