On Thursday, April 26, after considering more than three hours of stakeholder comments, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ruled to continue the protection of the Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in Florida state waters.
The meeting addressed an April 2017 FWC proposal to open a limited harvest of the critically endangered species, in response to several stakeholder claims that Goliath Grouper populations had recovered in Florida after the 28 year moratorium on all harvest. 57 of 59 individuals and groups present at the meeting supported continuing to protect Goliath Grouper from harvest, while two individuals supported the opening of the fishery.
REEF's publicly-accessible Fish Survey Project data were one of several sources of population data considered by the FWC, along with the comments from scientists, local universities, DEMA, Florida dive shops, and the general public. The REEF data demonstrated an overall scarcity of Goliath Grouper throughout the state, with some increases in sighting frequency at localized sites since the start of data collection in 1993. According to the REEF data, outside of Florida, Goliath Grouper are still virtually absent throughout their entire historic range, which extends throughout the Caribbean and south to Brazil.
Meeting attendees spoke about the high economic value of the fish to ecotourism and the diving community in Florida, the high mercury content that makes the flesh inedible, and the biology and ecology that make the species highly susceptible to overfishing. Additional evidence presented showed that Goliath Groupers' diets consist primarily of benthic crustaceans and baitfish, and that the Goliath Grouper’s presence on the reef has a positive correlation with biodiversity.
At the end of the session, FWC released the following statement: “After listening to public comments and discussing the current and future management of Goliath Grouper in Florida at the April meeting in Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) directed staff to continue current Goliath Grouper research and management, and develop a road map to direct future conservation efforts. They did not pursue a limited harvest.”