For 30 years now, fishermen in Florida have had to watch the behemoths of the Gulf swim away — with nary a thought of pulling one into the boat or taking it back to shore.
The goliath grouper, which can reach 800 pounds and grow eight feet in length, has been protected by a catch-and-release-only law that is enforced to allow the fish to regroup after facing extinction near the end of the 1900s.
Goliaths died off not only because of overfishing, but because they are sensitive to cold water and red tide. There was a groundswell of support for the ban on reeling in goliaths that included protests from some of our local fishing guides.
Even without an opportunity to catch the fish, goliaths’ reputation has swelled because of its popularity with divers and ecosystem tours. The fish, somewhat frightening because of its size and deep bellowing sounds it can make, is actually quite friendly.
Goliaths are normally not at all afraid of human contact, a trait that has made them an attraction for dive business operators.
Prohibiting the seizure of the big fish has apparently worked. It was removed from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s species of special concern list in 2006. Its population has flourished to the point that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission has scheduled a discussion Oct. 6 on a plan to allow up to 200 special fishing permits a year for goliath groupers.
The preliminary plan would require, starting in 2023, a $10 fee for fishermen to enter their name in a lottery. From there, 200 names would be drawn, and those people could pay $500 for a permit to catch a goliath.
The permits would be good from March 1 to May 31 in state waters but would still protect younger (smaller) goliaths and the largest (older) fish.
“This proposal will allow users additional access opportunities, protect areas of heavy dive ecotourism, and provide researchers with needed biological data, while allowing the population to continue to rebuild,” Jessica McCawley, director of the FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management, told the News Service of Florida.
She said the highly regulated program would continue to protect the goliath grouper from overfishing while giving fishermen a rare opportunity for a catch of a lifetime.
According to The Daily Sun Waterline Editor Josh Olive, fishermen in our area might have the best opportunity to catch a goliath because our mangroves, and those in the Everglades, are healthier than those on the East Coast. Mangrove habitat is favored by goliaths, and Olive says he suspects there are a number of the big fish in Charlotte Harbor.
Ten years ago, we might have been concerned about a program to kill off 200 goliath groupers a year. Not so much now. It sounds like a great opportunity for a generation of fishermen who are rarely tested with catching a fish so large — Florida’s record catch for a goliath was a 680-pounder caught near Fernandina Beach in 1961.
Let’s go catch some fish.