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FWC Plan To Lift Ban On Catching And Killing Goliath Grouper Moving Forward

MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF) – A plan to lift a three-decades old ban on the catching and killing of goliath grouper in Florida continues to move forward as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission considers the plan which would allow a limited number of the fish to be harvested in state waters.

On October 6, the commission will consider a proposal to allow up to 200 fishing permits a year for goliath grouper.

Goliath Grouper Florida
In this Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 photo, released by the Mote Marine Laboratory, a Goliath Grouper swims at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla. Florida may lift its three-decade ban on catching and killing goliath groupers. Wildlife officials are proposing, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, a "limited harvest" of the giant coastal fish, saying their numbers have rebounded sufficiently since they were almost driven to extinction by overfishing and environmental damage. (Conor Goulding/Mote Marine Laboratory via AP)

"Currently, access to the goliath resource is provided through catch-and-release fishing and diving ecotourism opportunities, but requests to reopen harvest have increased in recent years as the population rebuilds," Jessica McCawley, director of the commission's Division of Marine Fisheries Management, advised commissioners in a memo in advance of next month's meeting.

Under the proposal, applicants for the "limited, highly regulated harvest" starting in 2023 would have to pay $10 to enter a lottery from which names would be drawn for $500 fishing permits.

The harvest would run annually from March 1 through May 31 in state waters outside of Southeast Florida, from Palm Beach County south through the Atlantic coast of Monroe County. The giant coastal fish are an ecotourist draw for dive operators in that region.

Never listed as endangered, goliath grouper were removed from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's species of special concern list in 2006 and had their listing improved from "critically endangered" to "vulnerable" in 2018 by the independent International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Goliath grouper, which can grow to 800 pounds and more than 8 feet in length, had been harvested in state waters since the late 1800s. The largest goliath grouper caught in Florida waters was a 680-pound fish caught off Fernandina Beach in 1961.

dead goliath grouper_2
A giant Goliath group apparently killed in red tide fish kill in St. Petersburg on July 14, 2021. (Courtesy: Wendy Wesley)

Aside from overfishing, the species is susceptible to large-scale mortality events such as cold temperatures and red tide blooms.

"This proposal will allow users additional access opportunities, protect areas of heavy dive ecotourism, and provide researchers with needed biological data while allowing the population to continue to rebuild," McCawley wrote. "This approach would allow FWC to continue to manage this fishery for a diversity of values and recognize goliath's important role in the ecosystem."

The goliath almost died off in the 1980s from overfishing and pollution and is not allowed to be caught in any other state or federal waters.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)



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