FIGHTING FOR GOLIATHS
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has approved Hunt!
On March 3, 2022, ironically, World Wildlife Day, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) chose to ignore scientists, the diving community, and the overwhelming majority of their stakeholders to appease special interests. The new rule to allow the killing of 200 juvenile goliaths a year passed 3-1 and in the absence of three commissioners, including FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.
The FWC believes that goliath populations are recovering, and while it is true that their numbers have grown since near extinction, it has taken over 31 years to reach the status of recovering. Goliaths remain listed as a vulnerable species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The probability of their survival depends on the management of threats they face. Such threats include overexploitation, poaching, habitat loss, and other environmental factors such as red tide. Several giant goliaths have washed ashore already this year due to red tide. This doesn't account for the dead fish that never made it to shore.
The survival of juvenile goliaths is contingent on mangrove habitats where they spend the first five years of their life. We have lost one-third of our mangrove habitats, our waters are polluted, and algae blooms (red tide) are progressively worsening.
Goliath groupers are ecological engineers whose survival is critical in maintaining a balanced and healthy marine ecosystem. Their presence holds the system together, creating diversity and abundance all around them.
The FWC's decision will have a ripple effect for generations to come. Special interests and new opportunities to kill should never take precedence over science and overwhelming opposition from stakeholders, who are all a part of the public trust. All of the trust's beneficiaries, including those who choose not to partake in the killing of wildlife, should be considered, especially when your final decisions have the potential to damage the longevity of a species.
Our hearts ache for the goliaths and the negative impact this will have on this species and the underwater ecosystems they keep healthy and balanced.
Thank you to everyone that has followed our calls to action over the years. We are looking into ways to fight this!
Please contact the FWC Commissioners and let them know how you feel about their decision. https://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-office/senior-staff/commissioners/
About the Goliath Grouper
Goliaths are slow-moving, curious fish that can weigh up to 800 pounds. They were once a popular fishing target which pushed them to the brink of extinction. The goliath grouper became a prohibited species in 1990, and in 1994 goliaths were listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The protections placed on goliaths played a significant role in their recovering populations. However, despite their recovering numbers, the goliath remains listed as a vulnerable species, which means they are predisposed to several threats such as overexploitation, poaching, habitat loss, and other environmental factors that are likely to place them back on the IUCN’s critically endangered list unless the circumstances that threaten their survival are improved.
In 2017 we joined forces with Jim Abernethy of WildlifeVOICE and started our Save the Goliath Grouper campaign. Along with several others, we worked to stop a proposal that would have allowed fishermen an "opportunity," as the FWC calls it, to "harvest" the critically endangered goliath grouper. At the April 2018 FWC meeting, goliaths were on the agenda. Almost the entire meeting room was full of people opposing the proposal. Fifty-six people spoke during the comment period. Only two of the fifty-six people who spoke favored the proposal (the American Sportfishing Association and the Coastal Conservation of Florida).
On April 26, 2018, FWC Commissioners voted NOT to move forward with a goliath grouper trophy hunt.
Watch the previous FWC meeting (2018).
A few fishermen have complained about goliath groupers taking trophy fish off their lines and blaming them for the dwindling number of reef fish at popular fishing locations. The fishermen who are complaining fail to consider the impact they have on the reef fish, the effects of overfishing, commercial fishing, habitat loss, pollution, and red tide, all of which can disrupt the balance of underwater ecosystems.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission claims that goliath grouper populations have recovered enough to allow a limited trophy hunting opportunity. However, many scientists refute these claims.
Scientific analysis of goliath grouper stomach contents has found that the vast majority of the goliath's diet consists of baitfish or crustaceans rather than gamefish. Over-fishing is the main reason for declining fish and lobster stocks, not Goliath Groupers, as some fishermen claim no scientific data to support them.
The FWC conducted 3 stock assessments, all of which were rejected by a panel of independent scientists. Some say that a 'sustainable' annual harvest of Goliath Groupers is possible. Still, many scientists agree that the current population would not last more than a year or two after opening such a fishery.
1. Reef fish abundance and diversity are higher when Goliath groupers are present on reefs.
2. Research conducted by Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres concludes that overfishing is responsible for declining fish and lobster stocks, not Goliaths.
3. The Goliath grouper's diet consists mainly (85%) of crabs and other crustaceans. The remaining 15% is comprised of slow-moving fish such as pufferfish, catfish, and stingrays, not game fish.
4. A recent Florida State University research team published a paper on their findings stating, "The Goliath Grouper is still Overfished and Critically Endangered!"
5. Goliaths play a critical role in Florida's ecotourism industry. Approximately one out of one hundred scuba operators in South Florida state that they bring in an estimated $500,000 each year, generated by taking divers to see these groupers in the wild. By protecting these animals, the long-term economic benefits to the state of Florida far exceed the value generated by a one-time kill.
6. Dr. Chris Koenig's research revealed that the flesh of the Goliath Grouper contains high levels of mercury. Mercury levels in these fish were found to approach 3.5 ppm, far exceeding federal health advisory warnings. The FDA prohibits the sale of any fish with mercury higher than 1.0 ppm. With mercury levels higher than 0.5 ppm, the Natural Resources Defense Council recommends avoiding consumption due to the danger of mercury poisoning.
7. Former Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Dr. Sylvia Earle, warned that "Killing the Goliath Grouper would be killing the growing economic benefits derived from divers who want to see these Iconic animals, who are often as curious as us.
From Dr. Guy Harvey
"It is unlikely the population will be restored to former levels because of loss of habitat, over-fishing of prey species, and poaching. Now there is the suggestion of culling. Long-lived, slow-growing fish cannot tolerate any level of exploitation.
We should have learned this from what has happened to snappers, groupers, and sharks all around the world. So you want to start culling Goliaths….? Where and when? At what size? What are you going to do with the fish that are killed? Turn them into cat food? They cannot be eaten by humans due to very high mercury levels. If you kill the juveniles before they have a chance to reproduce, that is disastrous fishery management.
Goliath grouper spawning aggregations have become a new destination for divers for a limited time each year. These aggregations bring people from far away to experience the thrill of seeing many of these great fish close at hand. This activity benefits the local economy without killing a single fish, just the same as shark ecotourism.
I hope the science will prevail and people will make the right decision."