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Time to Begin Limited Harvest of Goliath Groupers?

 Photo by Robert Montgomery

Count me as one who favors a limited permit system for harvest of goliath groupers by recreational anglers.

The large, predatory fish have made a remarkable recovery in Florida waters, with fishermen frequently tangling with them as they pursue other species. And sometimes the goliaths eat those other species as they are being reeled in.

A legitimate concern, though, is how an exploding population of exotic lionfish will affect the population. The invaders are notorious predators on juvenile fish of many species, goliaths included.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider management issues when a new stock assessment is completed next spring.

Overharvest by commercial and recreational fishermen nearly pushed the goliaths to extinction by the mid 1980s. But during the 25 years since harvest was banned, they’ve rebounded in dramatic fashion.

The News-Press reports the following:

In a University of Florida survey, 1,518 recreational hook-and-line fishermen, 574 recreational spear fishermen, 697 commercial fishermen and 352 sightseeing divers answered a series of questions about goliath grouper.

Among the findings:

  • Commercial fishermen: 68 percent were interested in harvesting goliath grouper; 32 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 42 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species.
  • Recreational hook-and-line and spear fishermen: 78 percent were interested in harvesting goliath grouper; 52 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 20 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species.
  • Sightseeing divers: 87 percent said goliath grouper encounters were desirable; 9 percent said the goliath grouper is a nuisance species (these divers were not asked about their interest in harvesting goliath grouper but did express support for keeping the fishery closed to harvest). 

Some hook-and-line fishermen and spear fishermen consider goliath grouper a nuisance because they steal hooked and speared fish.

Sightseeing divers, on the other hand, like seeing and photographing goliath grouper, which can grow to 8 feet in length and weigh 800 pounds.

"We learned from the survey and anecdotal information that the difference is the individual's goals," said Florida Sea Grant agent Joy Hazell, co-author of the report on the survey. "If a diver sees a big, giant fish that he's spent money to see, it's a good experience. If a fisherman has a good fish hooked and loses it to a goliath grouper, the perception is he's lost money. As the goliath grouper population has increased, there's a perception for some people that it's becoming a problem,"

Spearfisherman Zachary Francis of Fort Myers is all for a well managed goliath grouper harvest.

"They should have a bag limit, like one per boat per day, and a slot size," he said. "The fact is that they're overpopulated. Any dive you make, you'll see five or six. They can be very aggressive. They're the premier predatory fish on the reef, and they're eating all the other groupers."

While goliath grouper will aggressively go after speared and hooked fish, studies show that its main diet is crabs and other crustaceans and slow-moving fish.

Brent Argabright, owner of Dean's Dive Center in Fort Myers, is also interested in a managed harvest.

"I don't think they should just give people free rein or just have a 10-day season," he said. "If the state wants to raise money as well as clean out a few of them, they could do like they do with alligator and sell permits."


Smallmouth Bass Moved to Improve Fishery at Flaming Gorge

Anglers teamed with state and federal agencies late this spring in an innovative effort to improve numbers of smallmouth bass on the north end of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, a Green River fishery on the Utah-Wyoming border.

“Since burbot became established in Flaming Gorge, the numbers of smallmouth bass have declined on the Wyoming side of the reservoir due to predation on small bass and competition for food,” explained Ryan Mosley of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR).

“Although burbot are found in the canyon (Utah) portion of the reservoir, their numbers remain relatively low,” he added. “As a result, smallmouth bass are very abundant, with bass hiding behind almost every rock during the summer months.”

On May 30, forty anglers from Utah B.A.S.S. Nation and other angling groups teamed with UDWR, Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF), the U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management to take advantage of this abundance on the south end. They caught 359 smallmouths by hook and line and transferred them to transport boats. After they were measured and tagged, the fish were moved to one of two sites 30 to 40 miles uplake for release.

“Both UDWR and WGF are interested in assessing growth, movement, and survival of these tagged smallmouth bass in Flaming Gorge, assisting the agencies in monitoring the success of the transplants and future management of the fishery,” Mosley said.

While in Colorado . . . 

Under a plan proposed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), regulations regarding harvest of smallmouth bass will be relaxed as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program. It must be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies before being implemented.

“We developed the management plan with input we received at a public meeting in 2010 and comments we have received since then,” said aquatic biologist Lori Martin. “Public feedback was critical to form what we feel is a very good vision for future fisheries management of Rifle Gap.”

Present regulation includes a two-fish limit and a 15-inch minimum size, with a spawning closure. Under the new management plan, the limit would be five, with no minimum size and no spring catch-and-release only season.

The plan was developed to diminish predation and thus aid in recovery of the native razorback sucker, bonytail chub, humpback hub, and the Colorado pikeminnow, found only in the Upper Colorado basin. As part of the strategy, an in-stream fish screen was built in Rifle Creek, downstream of the reservoir, to prevent non-native sport fish from escaping.

Smallmouth bass and walleye have been self-sustaining in the reservoir since they were stocked by the former Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1972. No additional bass, walleye or any other cool/warm water species have been added since.

Northern pike were illegally introduced between 1993 and 1999, causing conflict among anglers, CPW said. “Some anglers covet the northern pike and the opportunity to catch a trophy-size fish in western Colorado. Anglers fishing for smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch, and trout are adamantly opposed to CPW managing Rifle Gap for northern pike.”

The proposed plan would keep unlimited bag and possession limits for pike, with bowfishing and spearfishing as methods of legal take.

(These articles appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)



Friday Fishing Wisdom

“To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

“Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught.” --- Author unknown

“The worse your line is tangled, the better is the fishing around you.” ---Author unknown

“I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.” --- W.C. Fields

 “Some men would rather be photographed with their fish than with their wives.” Gwen Cooper and Evelyn Haas


Wheeler Impressive, But Guntersville Still Best for Big Bass in Alabama photo

Wheeler Lake continues its ascendancy as a world-class bass fishery according to results from Alabama’s Bass Anglers Information Team (BAIT) Report, published annually by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF).

Impressive results that bass clubs reported from there were a surprise in 2012, but not in 2013, according to WFF’s Damon Abernethy.

“Although Wheeler has never been a poor fishery, there was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when it rivaled Lake Guntersville,” he said.

Then Largemouth Bass Virus took its toll there, as did the disappearance of aquatic grass.

“There would be years when it improved, and then it would slack off again,” Abernethy added. “We do have biological evidence the bass virus, along with the loss of the grass, impacted the fishery. It was a kind of double whammy.”

But in 2012, angler success “shot through the roof,” he said. “I didn’t really expect that to continue this year, but it did. And it was even better.”

While Wheeler came out on top overall, Abernethy doesn’t think that it has surpassed Guntersville.

 “Our tables can be a little bit deceiving unless you pay close attention,” he explained. “Guntersville has a 15-inch minimum length limit, which affects a lot of things. It’s going to depress your percent success and number of fish caught because they are having to throw back the smaller fish. And it’s going to artificially inflate your average size.

“I think everybody will agree that Guntersville is the best bass lake in the state, but it never performs well in the overall quality indicators simply because of the length limit. For the hours it takes to catch a bass over 5 pounds, it’s still at the top and it usually is. Guntersville is still a phenomenal fishery.”

Read more about Wheeler at