FWC may allow goliath grouper harvest in Florida waters. Will anglers pay the price?
A select few saltwater anglers fishing in Florida waters soon may be able to take home a goliath grouper for dinner. However, with a costly permit required, will anglers be willing to pay the price?
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission next month may vote on whether to approve or modify a proposed change to fishing regulations for goliath grouper, a species that has been protected from harvest in state and federal waters since 1990. The FWC will meet Oct. 6-7 in St. Augustine.
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What are the proposed regulations?
FWC staff has been working on developing new fishing regulations for goliath grouper since spring. The seven-member governor-appointed commission will vote on these proposed rules:
- The harvest of up to 200 goliath grouper per year, with harvest opportunities awarded via random-draw lottery with a maximum of one permit and tag per person per year
- A lottery application fee of $10 and, if awarded, a permit fee of $500
- A slot limit of 20-36 inches total length
- Hook-and-line as the only allowable gear
- An annual open harvest season of March 1 through May 31
- Harvest allowed in all state waters except those of Palm Beach County south through the Atlantic coast of Monroe County
- A requirement for participants to submit harvest and biological information.
Public comment will be taken immediately after the presentation, and all verbal comments must be provided in-person. To review the full agenda or the public comment guidelines, go to MyFWC.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/october-2021.
What was the reaction to the proposed regulations?
Dive charter operations in South Florida were satisfied with the announcement. During the months of August through October, charters take scuba divers offshore to observe spawning aggregations that may include anywhere from five to 25 of the 500-pound and larger groupers.
Several dive shops in the Jupiter area — where the goliath grouper would be protected — hosted group charters for divers to see and hear the big fish.
Charter fishers think the regulations need to be adjusted.
"I like everything about the proposed regulations except for the size limit," said Capt. Jonathan Earhart of Chaos Fishing Charters in Martin County. "If someone is going to kill a goliath grouper, they won't want to kill a small fish. The size limit should be not less than 36 inches."
Earhart said he has customers who charter him for the thrill of catching and releasing a goliath grouper larger than the angler is.
"Why would someone want to kill a 20-pound fish during a time of the year when they catch a snook the same size to get the same amount of meat and do it for free," he said.
Earhart said 200 permits for the entire state seems too few as well.
"They should issue 200 permits just for Martin County. People come here to fish for goliaths anyway," he said.
Goliath grouper can be caught throughout South Florida waters. Smaller-sized goliaths — in the 20-36 inch length range suggested by the FWC regulations — spend their juvenile years living in estuaries near red mangrove roots, rocky shorelines and bridge pilings. They are commonly caught in the Indian River Lagoon system, the Everglades, the Florida Keys and throughout Southwest Florida waterways.
"If the FWC wants to protect individual goliath groupers known to divers, why don't they just tag them so they can never be harvested," Earhart suggested.
How can I contact the FWC commissioners?
Written public comments are encouraged and can be submitted in advance of the FWC meeting no later than 5 p.m. eastern time on Oct. 1 using one of these methods:
- Email the commissioners: MyFWC.com/contact/fwc-office/senior-staff/commissioners
- Saltwater comments page: MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments
- Email the Division of Marine Fisheries Management: Marine@MyFWC.com
- Mail: FWC commissioners, 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, Florida 32399
In May, the commission discussed opening a season for the protected fish — an issue that came up in 2018, shortly after the most recent stock assessment was completed. During the May deliberation, commissioners heard from recreational anglers who supported an opening and from the scuba diving tourist industry that opposed it.
Those arguments were:
- The harvest ban achieved its goal and the population has rebounded
- Overpopulation is now harming the reefs and ecosystem
- They can be a nuisance, aggressive and take anglers' catches
- Anglers want to harvest them, and access is the FWC's mission
- Harvest should be allowed if science shows rebounded population
- Important part of the ecosystem, like manatees
- Significant economic benefit through dive and snorkel tourism
- Eating them could be harmful due to high mercury levels
- They haven't rebounded throughout their historic range
- Conservative management needed because they're vulnerable to overfishing.
What other items are on the meeting agenda?
Redfish. FWC staff will provide a review of the current status and regulations for redfish in Florida, including the outcomes and stakeholder feedback from the inaugural Redfish Summit. The commission will discuss next steps for stakeholder engagement and discussion related to the executive order that prohibited harvest for redfish, snook and spotted seatrout in the Tampa Bay Area after this summer's red tide fish kill. The commission may or may not extend the order, which was set to expire in October. Public comment on this agenda item will be limited to no more than 1 hour.
Sharks. Staff will provide a review and discussion of topics related to sharks. The presentation will include an overview of FWC’s shark management history, rationale behind FWC shark regulations, and recommendations for next steps for shark management in state waters. Public comment on this agenda item will be limited to no more than 1 hour.
Ed Killer is TCPalm's outdoors writer. Sign up for his and other weekly newsletters at profile.tcpalm.com/newsletters/manage. Friend Ed on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him firstname.lastname@example.org.