First phase in lifting the 31-year ban on harvesting Goliath Grouper off Florida’s coast gets approved by FWC

Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Henry and Laura Whittaker

Florida residents and anglers are one step closer to gaining approval to legally harvest Goliath Grouper off the coast, thanks to a new proposal by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The commission told its staff to draft an initial proposal that would outline specific regulatory guidelines concerning the once-overfished species and potential for harvesting moving forward.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Goliath Grouper was once so overfished in the region, the United States considered placing them under the Endangered Species Act.

For over 30 years now, the species has been protected by a number of agencies, including the FWC, to prevent the catching and keeping practice of the behemoth bottom feeders.

In a meeting on Wednesday, the board of regulators took a monumental step in allowing a proposal to even be considered for the potential of lifting the three-decade-long ban on harvesting the fish.

The proposal would likely allow 100 goliaths to be caught and kept annually during a four-year period in a limited harvest. Other supporters believe a lottery to issue $300-per-week licenses that would permit the winners to harvest one goliath, with proceeds from the license going to the research of the fish.

It would also limit the size of the fish that can be caught to 4-6.5 feet (1.2-2 meters) and 70 to 200 pounds (32-90 kilograms).

Until now, Goliath Groupers could not be caught and kept in any other state or federal waters due to the overharvesting that almost drove them to extinction over 30 years ago. However, game fishers and recreational anglers have been allowed to catch and release the species for photos and recreational purposes so long as they do not harm the species or delay the release in any way.

Goliath Groupers can weigh up to 800 pounds and have garnered a significant amount of attention on social media platforms such as YouTube because they are such a hard catch. Anyone who has successfully caught and released a fish of the size will tell you it is a grueling task that may have required spare hands from other shipmates. Catching this grouper has often been compared to the likes of pulling a car from under the water with brute strength.

Board members did highlight that more research must be conducted before agreeing to a limited harvest. The answer to the question of how many goliaths are out there in the first place still looms.

Reports have surfaced that the population numbers of the species have gone up significantly and are nearing recovery levels when compared to their near extinction, not their abundance in the 1950s.

“I think we should protect it until its population comes back to whatever baseline we want that to be,” said Commissioner Gary Nicklaus, son of golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

The vote to move forward was 6 to 1, but Floridians likely won’t see a limited harvest season until the population grows a bit more. 

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