The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approves draft rules for proposed Goliath Grouper Trophy Hunt.
The FWC has once again chosen to cater to special interest groups while ignoring the majority of their stakeholders and countless scientists who have vocalized their opposition to this proposal. On May 12, 2021, despite receiving 3,000 emails, 98% in opposition to the proposal, and countless scientists urging the FWC not to proceed, FWC Commissioners approved the proposal allowing for the "harvest" of the iconic goliath grouper. FWC staff also chose to use an outdated survey from 2013 during their presentation to convey that several stakeholders approved the killing of goliath grouper.
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Fighting For Goliaths
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. They 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 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).
From Jim Abernethy
"On my own behalf, I can tell you without question that my business triples during the time of the year the Goliath Grouper aggregation is here! My clients come from all over the world to see them. With all the facts from scientific research... They're poisonous and shouldn't be eaten. They are essential to the environment by providing life to many more fish, as well as the huge economic benefits, the decision is obvious! Do not allow the harvest of these iconic species!"
"Over-fishing is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks; not Goliath Groupers."
- Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres
Some fishermen are complaining to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) about goliath groupers taking trophy fish off their lines and blame them for the dwindling number of reef fish at popular fishing locations. 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. 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. Over-fishing is the main reason for declining fish and lobster stocks, not Goliath Groupers, as some fishermen claim with NO scientific data to support them.
What Does Science Tell Us?
1. A recent Florida State University research team published a paper on their findings stating "The Goliath Grouper is still Overfished and Critically Endangered!"
2. A recent research paper by Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres shows that over-fishing is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks; not Goliath Groupers.
3. An analysis of Goliath Grouper's stomach contents by the University of Florida found that 85% of their diet consists of crabs and other crustaceans. The other 15% was found to consist of slow-moving fish such as pufferfish, catfish, and stingrays; not game fish.
4. Florida State University researchers published a peer-reviewed paper showing that reef fish abundance and diversity are higher when goliath Groupers are present on those reefs. This study shows that goliath groupers act as ecological engineers, creating a life for many marine species.
5. Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), along with other entities, have conducted several stock assessments of Goliath Groupers, with the most recent survey taking place in 2016. The FWC's recent assessment concluded that Goliath Grouper populations had recovered. However, these results were rejected by a panel of independent scientists brought in by the FWC to review the study. The panel rejected the manner in which these assessments were conducted and labeled the findings as an inconclusive measure of population. Currently, under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Goliath Grouper are listed as vulnerable.
Here are a few more reasons the Goliath Grouper should not be hunted.
1. The Goliath Grouper has become a huge, thriving, piece of the ecotourism industry along Florida's East Coast. One, out of the roughly one-hundred, scuba operators in South Florida stated that he brings 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Some say that a 'sustainable' annual harvest of Goliath Groupers is possible, but many scientists agree that the current population would not last more than a year or two after opening such a fishery.
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."