A new paper published earier this month in the journal Marine Policy discusses the recent controversial opening of a limited fishery for Goliath Grouper in the United States, and its implications for population recovery of this iconic species. Laws protecting Goliath Grouper from fishing in US federal and state waters were implemented in 1990, after the species was identified as being severely overfished. REEF volunteers have been conducting fish surveys as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) throughout the Goliath Grouper's range. Because of its no-take status, there is virtually no fisheries-dependent data for Goliath Grouper, which means that the REEF database has been an invaluable source of information on the status and trends of the species. Population increases that occurred during the first 20 years of the closure were followed by a decline in the 10 years thereafter. Despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s call to retain full protection for this species in federal waters, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) opened a limited fishery in state waters for juvenile Goliath Grouper in 2022.
The new paper reviews available scientific literature and datasets on Goliath Grouper trends, including REEF data, and presents information on the limits of Goliath Grouper recovery, the varied threats the species is facing, and the ensuing factors that led to the species' subsequent decline. The authors discuss the risks associated with management decisions that ignore the best available scientific information, and compare management differences and difficulties among nations within the Atlantic Goliath Grouper’s range. To find out more about this and other scientific papers that have included REEF data, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications. To learn more about how the REEF data have been used to study and protect Goliath Grouper, visit www.REEF.org/goliath.