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Florida Considers Limited Harvest of Goliath Grouper

After 30 years of catch-and-release only, lottery-draw permits could be in place next year.

Florida Considers Limited Harvest of Goliath Grouper

'Conservation is not about closing a resource forever,' the FWC said about possible catch-and-keep regs for Goliath Grouper. (Shutterstock image)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has taken a step toward allowing some harvest of goliath grouper in state waters for the first time in decades.

In its October meeting, the commission approved a draft proposal that would create a "limited, highly regulated harvest of goliath grouper," through a lottery draw, the commission said in a news release.

The agency wants it to be clear that this is just a proposal at this point, and there are no immediate allowances for anybody to catch and keep a goliath.

The proposal is expected to be fine-tuned and updated, and considered for a final vote by the commission in March.

Harvest and possession of goliath grouper has been prohibited in state and federal waters off Florida since 1990.

Current state regulations say all goliaths caught should be immediately released back into the water. Photos should only be taken during the release, and anglers should not delay release to measure, weigh or take mug photos. The fish should be kept in the water the entire time.

"Conservation is not about closing a resource forever; it's about closing it as a management measure and giving access back when we can," FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood said in the news release. "I believe we are at this point, and it is a small and productive step in the right direction."

"I think we are going to learn a lot through the process, while continuing to promote continued rebuilding of the population," FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said.

If approved, anglers would have to be permitted, adhere to a slot limit and use only hook and line for one fish per season. Catch-and-release regs for the large rod-breaking (see below) goliaths will continue.

Florida Goliath Grouper
Goliath grouper, which can reach 800 pounds, are legendary hook-and-line fighters. We never saw the goliath during this 2019 fishing trip off Stuart, Fla., but the end result (inset) showed who won. (Photos by Scott Bernarde)

Goliath grouper proposal includes:

  • Recreational harvest of up to 200 goliath per year, with a maximum of 50 from Everglades National Park.
  • Limit one fish per person per open season.
  • Anglers will need a goliath harvest permit and tag, and be issued via a random-draw lottery
  • Proposed cost of goliath harvest permit/tag, $500.
  • Proposed season: March 12-May 31.
  • Hook and line only.
  • Slot limit 20-36 inches total length (slot minimum could rise to 22 or 24 inches.
  • Goliath fishing would be allowed in all state waters, with the exceptions of those of Palm Beach County through the Atlantic coast of the Florida Keys, and Martin County.
  • Post-harvest requirements will be put in place.

"In addition, staff will explore modifying gear regulations to minimize impacts from catch-and-release fishing on goliath grouper spawning aggregations," the agency said. "The FWC will continue to monitor the status of the stock using alternative metrics approved by the Commission in 2018.  The FWC will also continue ongoing efforts that recognize goliath’s role in the ecosystem and promote stock rebuilding.”

The goliath is the largest grouper species in the Atlantic Ocean, reaching up to 800 pounds and eight feet in length. The state record goliath in Florida is 680 pounds, caught in 1961, long before the state banned harvest to protect the species.


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