An informative, well written article about the problems surrounding a fish species known as goliath grouper in last week’s Marco Eagle (10A, Feb. 10), provides a chance at a “change of pace” article this week.
The article spells out that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is interested in obtaining information on stages of maturity and the possibility of gender changes on the goliath as they age. The issue on the table is whether a tightly controlled catch, kill and examine program’s results, now suggested by the Florida Fish and Wildlife, would be accepted by environmental ecologists who are avowed protectionists of this species that can, at full maturity, top off close to six hundred pounds.
Our article, this week, speaks to the unparalleled protection of this species that has ravaged most all other species for 27 years. Which in turn, has effected squadrons of other species and seriously impacted the recreational angler; while the Florida and National Marine authorities dawdled.
In contrast, the very same Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, have done an excellent job in managing the control, protection and availability for most every one of the other treasured species available here. For the most part, we, the recreational anglers have had unparalleled opportunities for great fishing from the backwaters to the deep Gulf waters because of their diligence and expertise.
But the goliath grouper itself has been a significant negative factor in threatening the stability of bio-mass numbers. As it uses its size and stealth to lay in wait and consume whatever species it wants usually from the business end of the recreational angler’s retrieve.
So, why was nothing done for 27 years by government to get the issue better defined and controlled as was standard practice on other species?
But let’s drop back to the late 1980s and see what drove the authorities to declare this absolute closure of goliath grouper.
In those years, the goliath was targeted prey for unscrupulous commercial and recreational anglers. There are still stories bantered about of boats returning to dock with carcasses stacked two deep of huge goliaths. They would be targeted and slaughtered as there was zero regulation as to size or allowable take.
That closure was the absolutely right move. Recreational fishing clubs and others in interest expected studies of the species to commence in the near term then and at least allow some availability to harvest the goliath. Not so much for consumption but for their population control. Experience had already shown these behemoths as exterminators of most other targeted species on most wrecks and reefs.
As we rolled into the 21st century with no action as to control the goliath population growth by the authorities the slaughter worsened. Pleas of “please do something” were common at the periodic governmental meetings.
The Marco Charter Captain’s Association even got involved in the petition for action in the 2006 to 2008 time frame and attended numerous FWC and NMFS meetings held from Tallahassee to Key West along with other fishing clubs and captains groups.
This stake holders effort even helped develop a proposal much akin to what is being suggested now by the authorities. It was to be a limited catch by a limited number of authorized anglers to take a Goliath, refrigerate the intact carcass and inform the authorities. They then would autopsy the fish looking for the stage of development and recorded age. Charter captains even offered pro bono trips for governmental representatives to be involved in the capture.
Our efforts, however, were dashed when at a final discussion meeting in 2008, the plan was discarded with protectionists reviling at the taking of just this small number of goliath specimens for study.
And this is 2017; no action to study or control since.
If you ask just about anyone who fishes in the Gulf, they will have a number of “goliath stories” to recount. Those tales will show that not only is it the loss of a hooked fish to the goliaths, but in many cases the destruction of another protected species. I’ll share a few of my experiences as an example.
It’s an early fall day some years back and we have a group aboard who want “big fish” and have heard about the goliath size and covet a meeting with same. So, we’re working just offshore on what is called the first reef and have two heavy duty rods with massive cut baits on the bottom awaiting what we hope will be a visit from a goliath.
We’re getting action, but from undersized gag and red grouper which we carefully release, rebait and reset the rig. The group is losing patience.
Then one rod literally doubles over and we’re into the struggle. Goliath’s don’t run off like other species. They just lie there; it’s like landing a Volkswagen Beetle.
The goliath surfaces, not a monster but probably in the 30-40 pound class. The guys want a picture. They lift the grouper out of the water (allowable back then) and two of them hold the fish horizontally with big smiles. Just then the grouper writhes and regurgitates a half dozen loggerhead turtle hatchlings. Everyone is stunned; these are highly protected sea creatures but fair game to the ravenous appetite of the Goliath.
The snook has always been the most revered and treasured species that plies the waters of South Florida. They have been sheltered with almost impossible harvest size restrictions and closed seasons.
Some years back, we had an adventurous family on a charter that yearned for the chance to experience the thrill of catching (and releasing) these great fish. They booked a three quarter day trip which allowed us to take the lengthy journey to a spot in Gullivan Bay known as Pavilion Key. Just offshore of this island is a sunken barge that, strangely, attracts big snook in slack water periods drawing them from the creeks and crevices of the Ten Thousand Islands.
As we set up there that late morning, we would use live thread herring free lined into the edges of the barge and in the crystal clear water you could actually see the massive snook on their feed. It didn't take more than 10 minutes and we had two snook on and going in different directions.
After a rigorous fight we had both snook alongside, photoed and ready for release, when all of a sudden, gargantuan Goliaths, appeared port and starboard and in a matched pair of cavernous swallows dispatched those two wonderous fish.
There were tears from the family youngsters, “we killed those beautiful fish” as they racked rods and we departed the vicinity, sickened by the dreadful onslaught.
So when will something be done? They have been propagating for 27 years.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.