Looking for recreational divers to participate in the Great Goliath Grouper Count!

Goliath Grouper. Credit: Florida Sea Grant

Great Goliath Grouper Count

This is the 15th year of the Great Goliath Grouper Count, scheduled to take place June 1 through June 16, 2024! The Great Goliath Grouper Count is a collaboration between Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that uses recreational divers to collect the number, size class, and locations of goliath grouper in Florida. During the first two weeks of June, trained divers count goliath grouper at artificial reefs and wrecks. This is a cooperative research project between scientists and the recreational diving community to help obtain data to provide information on abundance and size distribution across the state. Since its initiation in 2010, the Great Goliath Grouper Count has continued to expand from southwest Florida and now incorporates sites from the Florida Keys, northern Gulf of Mexico, and the east coast of Florida. Over the past fourteen years, nearly 1,000 surveys have been submitted and divers have spent more than 470 hours under water looking for these very large groupers that can grow up to 8 feet long and weight over 800 pounds!

History of Overfishing

Considering how large a goliath grouper can grow, they were historically pretty easy to catch, especially by spearfishing underwater. This is likely in part because goliath grouper show a lot of curiosity when they see a diver underwater.  If you have ever dove with a goliath grouper you know it is not unusual for them to follow you around — it is very thrilling to be nose-to-nose with a 300+ pound fish! Unfortunately, overfishing became a problem and the goliath grouper was closed to all harvest in 1990 because it was overfished for many years. Although since the spring of 2023 there has been a very limited Goliath Harvest Program in Florida state waters with up to 200 permits available each year, awarded on a lottery basis following an application and fee. For more information, slot limits, and closed areas please visit the FWC website. There is still no legal harvesting allowed in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.

Goliath grouper at an artificial reef. Credit: Florida Sea Grant

The Great Goliath Grouper Count was established in part due to the difficulty to obtain stock assessment information on a species that is not being fished, because there is limited fisheries dependent data collected on species where no harvest or possession is allowed.  Fisheries dependent data is the kind that is provided via commercial and recreational fishing.  Fisheries independent data is the kind that is collected by scientists and natural resource management agencies like NOAA Fisheries or the FWC in Florida.  Basically, the Great Goliath Grouper Count is a non-lethal way to collect goliath grouper data and the community is helping the fish biologists measure their populations every June.

Goliath Grouper Life History

Goliath groupers spend their first 5-6 years of life in shallow waters associated with mangroves. The 10,000 Islands in southwest Florida and the Everglades are very important juvenile habitats.  Juveniles are especially vulnerable to cold snaps, marine heatwaves, and algal blooms like red tide, which have caused a lot of mortality. They mature around 36” in length when they move offshore to coral reefs, wrecks, and artificial reefs. They have a maximum known age of 37 years and very likely live to 50 or even 100 years of age. A study by Florida State University found 85% of their diet is crustaceans and the rest slow moving fish, although they are opportunistic feeders and many have learned how to take an easy meal from anglers. Adult goliath groupers have small home ranges, and once they find a suitable spot they tend to stay there year around until breeding season. Tagged goliath grouper are documented to swim 100 miles or more to spawning aggregations, where hundreds of individuals converge to mate.

How to Participate

If you are interested in participating in the Great Goliath Grouper Count, there is a training video located at https://www.flseagrant.org/citizenscience/great-goliath-grouper-count/. You can also call 305-292-4502 or email shellykrueger@ufl.edu and I can teach you how to perform a roving dive, count the grouper you see, and record the 3 size classes (0-3 feet, 3-5 feet, greater than 5 feet). Please reach out if you have any questions, or need waterproof data sheets.  All photo credits Florida Sea Grant.





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Posted: May 30, 2024

Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, Recreation, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Citizen Science, Florida Sea Grant, Goliath Grouper

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