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New FWC draft rule will allow for harvest of Goliath grouper

By Ana Zangroniz and Angela Collins, Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent, Manatee County

The October 6th meeting of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ended with a new draft proposed rule: the permission for a limited harvest of Goliath Grouper, a species of fish that has been prohibited from take both in state and federal waters since 1990.

SCUBA divers are visible behind Goliath grouper during a trip off of Jupiter, FL. Photo: Ana Zangroniz

Goliath grouper are the largest grouper species in the Tropical Western Atlantic, subtropical and tropical waters off of North and South America. They can grow up to eight feet in length and 800 lbs. The state of Florida is the center for the Goliath population in the United States. Goliaths have a complex life cycle and were significantly overfished in the late 1980’s, leading to moratorium on fishing of this species in US waters.

Since the fishery closure, Goliath grouper populations have been increasing. However, traditional stock assessments for this species are difficult. Florida Sea Grant and FWC work together every year to conduct the Great Goliath Grouper Count, a fishery-independent survey by citizen scientists designed to give a snapshot of local populations annually. This happens during the first two weeks of June and has provided valuable data since 2010. For more on the Great Goliath Grouper Count, click here.

While catch-and-release fishing for Goliaths is popular in some areas of Florida, FWC’s new draft proposed rule would allow for:

  • The harvest of up to 200 goliath per year, with harvest opportunities awarded via random-draw
  • Lottery with a maximum of one permit and tag per person per year
  • A lottery application fee of $10 and, if awarded, a permit fee of $500
  • A slot limit of 20-36 inches total length
  • Hook-and-line as the only allowable gear (no spearfishing)
  • An open harvest season of March 1 through May 31 each year
  • Harvest allowed only in state waters except those of Palm Beach County south through the Atlantic coast of Monroe County and within Dry Tortugas National Park
  • A requirement for participants to submit harvest and biological information as stipulated by FWC

Concerns expressed via public comment included: lack of FWC enforcement capacity, negative impacts to tourism and the recreational SCUBA diving industry, targeting of fish in their nursery mangrove habitats, increased catch and release damage to fish that are released outside of the slot, consequences for goliath reproduction, and more.

To learn more about the Goliath grouper and implications of this proposed draft rule:

FWC bulletin about the proposed rule: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/2f648bf

FWC Goliath grouper information: https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/goliath/

More about Goliath grouper: https://portal.gulfcouncil.org/GoliathGrouper.html

To submit public comment about the proposed draft rule, you can still contact the Commission by mail: If you would like to provide comments via mail that can be reviewed after the meeting, please send those comments to the following address:

FWC Commissioners

620 South Meridian Street

Tallahassee, Florida 32399

FWC will make its final decision at a future commission meeting (likely March 2022). To stay informed, follow FWC commission updates here: https://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/