Conservationists Asking for Assistance to Protect Florida’s Goliath Groupers

Goliath grouper can grow to the size of small boats (Photo: Kyle Lippenberger/Shutterstock)

By Mark 'Crowley' Russell

Conservationists and divers are calling on Florida residents to oppose the proposed lifting of the ban on the fishing of goliath groupers in Florida's waters. The ban, in effect since 1990 after goliath groupers were hunted to the verge of extinction in the 1980s, is currently under review by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Atlantic Goliath groupers inhabit much of the tropical Atlantic around the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the coast of Brazil. They can grow up to 2.5m in length and have been reported as more than 350kg in weight, and are imposing animals, not afraid of close encounters with divers. They are mostly harmless to humans, but are voracious predators, having been known to each small sharks whole. 

Since the Florida ban was implemented in 1990, with a subsequent ban across the entirety of the Caribbean being enforced in 1993, the goliath population has slowly recovered. They were classified as 'Critically Endangered' by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species until as late as 2018, when their status was officially downgraded to 'Vulnerable'.

Fishers have been calling for the ban to be lifted since at least 2017, claiming that the proliferation of the goliath grouper population is now interfering with their own catches, but scientists are warning that it is too early to lift the ban, and progress in the population's recovery over the last 30 years has been slow. Like many larger fish species, they are slow to reach sexual maturity and reproduce, and setbacks caused by red algae blooms and the loss of their mangrove nursery habitats have hindered the recovery process.

Goliath grouper populations are recovring, but scientists say it's too early to lift the ban (Photo: Kyle Lippenberger/Shutterstock)

The FWC Commission is holding a meeting at the Renaissance World Golf Village Resort in Saint Augustine, Florida on Wednesday, 6 October, during which a proposed lifting of the ban to allow 'a limited, highly regulated harvest of goliath grouper.' According to the FWC meeting agenda, the proposal 'includes a special opportunity for harvest through a lottery draw, while enacting area and seasonal closures, size and gear restrictions, and post-harvest requirements. The proposed limited harvest would allow users additional access opportunities to this species and provide researchers with needed biological data, while allowing the population to continue to rebuild and excluding harvest from areas of heavy dive ecotourism.'

Conservation groups are calling on the public to make their oppostion to the lifting of the proposed ban known by submitting written comments prior to the meeting, or, if possible attending the meeting in person.

Written comment to the Commission must be submitted no later thean 5pm Eastern Time on Friday, 1 October 2021 using one of the following methods:

For more information on the campaign to keep the ban in place, visit the website of Florida's Jupiter Dive Centre, which is helping to lead the campaign, at www.jupiterdivecenter.com/goliath-groupers-need-you.

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