July 4, 2017

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In the earlier part of the last century, Atlantic goliath groupers were abundant from Florida to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. If you have been lucky enough to be in the water with these creatures, then you appreciate their unflappable personality and awe-inspiring size, which reaches up to 8 feet and 1,000 pounds. The goliath grouper has no natural predators besides large sharks and humans. We are writing with regards to the latter.

Goliath groupers reached commercial extinction in the late 1980s. For this reason, in 1990 a federal and state ban on killing them was implemented for U.S. federal waters and state waters of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, followed by a 1993 ban in the U.S. Caribbean. Twenty-seven years of protection have led to a population increase, although not a recovery to pre-exploitation levels, in the state of Florida alone.  Spawning aggregations are forming again off the east coast of Florida. It’s the only place in the world where goliath groupers are now reliably found in significant numbers, as juveniles in mangroves, and as adults in reefs, solitary or forming spawning aggregations. People come from all over the nation and the world to see the goliath grouper spawning aggregations in the late summer, bringing big dollars that boost local economies.

Image: Wayne MacWilliams

“Diving in the Palm Beaches back in the late 1980s, to see a goliath grouper was the holy grail. Many of us dove year after year, and saw perhaps one, maybe none,” said Deb Castellana of Mission Blue. “To witness the resurgence of the species since protections were enacted has been heartening, a real story of hope.”

Yet, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is currently considering allowing the limited take of goliath groupers in state waters. The proposal would allow the killing of 100 goliath groupers per year for 4 years, for a total of 400 goliath groupers. The sizes targeted are breeding individuals. If implemented, the kill will exterminate most of Florida’s breeding population of goliath groupers, destroying 27 years of conservation management effort. This “limited take” is not supported by scientific evidence. Critics of the goliath grouper say the species is overeating and responsible for declining fish and lobster stocks. Yet, actual scientific data from researchers like Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. show that overfishing, not the goliath groupers, is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks.

Image: Randy Moore

Some say that a “sustainable” take of goliath groupers is possible, but many scientists agree that the current population would not last more than one, or perhaps two years after opening the fishery. And groupers have no nutritional value for humans since they contain levels of mercury that are unsafe for human consumption according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Health.

“I repeatedly asked what scientific evidence the FWC has to support killing the goliath groupers, because all scientific research published to date does not support a fishery for this species and shows the species is highly conservation dependent and highly vulnerable to overfishing,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “Many don’t realize that goliath groupers actually eat predators of juvenile lobsters, allowing more lobsters to grow to legal size and making more lobsters available to fishers.”

Don DeMaria, a local professional diver, adds, “the annual goliath grouper spawning aggregations that occur off the coast of South Florida are spectacular natural events on a world scale. Efforts by the FWC, and others, to reopen a take of this fish are sure to disrupt, and eventually eliminate this natural wonder.”

If a hunting season is opened on the goliath grouper, the FWC has floated the idea of charging $300 per fish killed. Yet, recreational divers pay around $100 for one goliath grouper sighting. Think of that: a single goliath grouper in the water is supporting local business to the tune of $36,500 per year or more than a million dollars over its lifetime. But one spawning aggregation alone, made by several goliath groupers, generates about half a million dollars a year for one dive business. Financially speaking, that’s a much better investment than collecting a one-time payment of $300 per dead fish.

“Killing goliath groupers will also kill growing economic benefits derived from divers who revel in the opportunity to be in the presence of these iconic animals who are often as curious about us.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle 

Image: Walt Stearns

We are aware that the FWC is gathering public input on the possibility of a goliath grouper killing season in Florida. As such, we have called for our supporters to attend one of the many workshops held in the state in August and October, as well as to submit a public comment on FWC’s website. We will also gathering signatures to a petition, which will be delivered to the FWC in anticipation of the goliath grouper decision coming down later this year.

“Although the species has not recovered to pre-exploitation levels, enough goliath groupers are showing up at a few spawning aggregation sites that their presence, and the SCUBA divers that come to visit them, bring a much-needed lifesaver to small businesses in Florida, between late August and early October, just when transition between the summer and winter seasons will leave these businesses in the doldrums,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “A live goliath grouper is more valuable than a dead one. And living goliaths will keep forming spawning aggregations and contributing to the Florida economy for as long as they live.”

We strongly urge the Commissioners of FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.

Image: Walt Stearns

HELP US: Ask the FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers!

You don’t have to live in Florida to help. Please take a moment to tell the FWC to continue protections for the goliaths at this link. Feel free to use the language below as your comment. 

“I am disappointed to learn the FWC is considering allowing the taking of goliath groupers. Many countries look up to the United States as a leader in so many fields, including conservation, and here we are about to permit fishermen to take goliaths—a species depleted throughout its range, except Florida—and nursed back to healthy numbers over the course of 27 years of Federal and state protection. We strongly urge you to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.” 

 

Join the conversation: #MissionGoliath! 

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14 Comments

  • Rob says:

    Save the grouper!! This is crazy! If the state wants to track them then track them!! This is NOT conservation!!!

  • me says:

    You really need to amend this article. First off, killing 400 groupers over 4 years is going to have a negligible effect. Saying this will exterminate the adult breeding population is a lie. The bigger effect will be peeps will think its OK to kill them. Like tarpon, its not. Additionally, saying there is no nutritional value due to mercury is misrepresenting the truth. You need to speak to a competent toxicologist about this one. Taken together, you are actually damaging your arguement than advancing it. Most fisheries peeps will move the volume switch to zero. SHM

    What is more a concern are cold fronts in winter, hurricanes during summer, and coastline development. Young of the year are susceptible to death by cold. If you have a year that kills a lot of snook, then a lot of juvenile jewfish (in years past, it was considered too coarse and made into gefilte fish) are going to die as well. More effort into habitat preservation needs be made, not worrying about 400 adults. If you lose 2 or 3 years worth of spawn, that is an issue, representing the loss of thousands of breeding adults.

    Any take of the species should be slot based: not below a certian size and above the size that is the breeding stock. Figure 3 to 4 feet.

    Maybe you can teach the goliath groupers (the politically correct name now) to eat the invasive lionfish. Now, people would pay to see that! And so would the FWC.

    I should add that by using the form text above, those emails will automatically be discarded. You can run responses through programs that search for ‘cut and paste’ text bombs, like advocated above. Just saying you IN YOUR OWN WORDS should say what you feel and why. Even saying, please don’t kill my fishy, he or she is my grouper pal’ or ‘I don’t live in Florida but I support conservation and after so many generations of work, I am concerned how this might be perceived’.

    • Mike says:

      I’m a Canadian and don’t know much about this other than I know grouper are a species that take many years to reach sexual maturity. You make some excellent points but is it not a lot to loose 400 adults that would be breeding

    • Peter says:

      On what basis do you claim taking 400 Goliath Groupers over 4 years is going to have a negligible effect? Perhaps you should amend your comment, where you call the author a liar. On what basis do you claim the bigger effect will be “peeps” will think its ok to kill them? On what basis do you claim a slot based take?

  • Thomas Daniel says:

    Florida residents. I just received another email from the FWC with Oct. workshop dates about allowing the taking of Goliath grouper in Florida waters. There were numerous workshops in July and August and now again in Oct. Use the link above, or go to: MyFWC.com /Fishing, for workshop dates, and MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComment to add your voice. If you lose this fish to commercial interests and greed it’s not because FWC didn’t give you the opportunity to do something.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Please save this fish!!!

  • Thomas Daniel says:

    I’m back. August is almost gone and all the workshops are over until Oct. You still have one last chance to add your voice to the debate and state your reasons for not killing this fish. Upcoming workshops are from Oct. 9th thru the 25th at various locations throughout Fla. and there’s also a virtual one as well. To comment go to: FWC.com/comments and more info is available @ FWC.com. I don’t even live in Florida but I would hate to see the Goliath grouper go the way of the dodo just because not enough people care. Happy birthday Dr. Earl. I remember when you and Eugenie Clark were about it when it came to female marine scientists. Eugenie’s gone now, but you’re still here and still trying to save the world, or at least the oceans. You are a remarkable person. Never willing to give up, never willing to take no for an answer but willing to compromise if that’s what it took. We need more like you. Stay well Doc.

  • Thomas Daniel says:

    I went to the link and left my comment and a few days later I received an email from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission inviting me to attend about a dozen or so workshops all around Florida concerning the Goliath grouper issue. The dates and locations are many so there is no excuse for you Florida residents not to go to one and voice your displeasure about this possible rule change. I’m from Carmel Valley California which is home to the Monterey bay Marine Sanctuary and also, I believe, a hope spot. I can tell you with certainty that nothing gets done if you don’t get off your ass and go do it. Dr. Earl would agree I think since she’s been doing something for decades. I don’t have the link but if you go to F.W.C.C.’s website they have dates and places. Time to act is now so we can still have these cool fish tomorrow.

  • Anne Ferguson-Rohrer says:

    Please send an important message about conservation and respect for the environment and an understanding of the complexities of the animal kingdom and maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Everyone should know that this is a link in an important chain that provides life to other fish and life in the ocean! EVEN THIS FISHES POO HAS BENEFITS TO THE OCEAN Biodiversoty! Which is more than any human can truthfully claim!
    Please DON’T FISH. Or damage this area! Leave it all alone!!!

  • Ziyad Tawfiqi says:

    I definitely support that the goliath grouper should still be forbidden to be caught!! Its a beautiful fish and rare to find too!

  • Tomoko Omura says:

    Please do not allow this to make the same mistakes again.

  • Alice Dubs says:

    Please do not kill the large groupers what possible purpose will this serve. Your tourist come there to see them. I’m sure many divers would love to come there to see them and many other species you have in the area. I have been to your beautiful ocean there and hope to be back soon. The oceans need their apex predators to keep everything in check. Mother Nature knows best. It’s been proven over and over when man tries to intervene things can and will go wrong.
    Thank you for your time

  • Monty canigou says:

    Divers travel from all over the globe to see these majestic creatures, our club is shocked with this news!

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