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."