You’re fishing off the coast of Florida, anchored up over a reef, when all the sudden you get the bite you’ve been waiting for. You know you’ve finally hooked the dinner fish, and start reeling it up towards the boat, when all the sudden a freight train snatches your line, and you hold on for dear life as the rod threatens to snap in half. The first time, you might think “sharks,” but soon you’ll know better.
Anyone who has done any fishing or diving off Florida can tell you similar stories about the Goliath Grouper, a hulking Volkswagen of a fish with no reservations about eating anything in range of its gaping mouth. These mammoth fish grow to upwards of 9 feet long and can weigh 800 pounds. What’s even more incredible is how many of these predators can be found on even the smallest reefs off Florida. As a fisherman and spearo, I’ve had more trouble with Goliath Groupers than any other species of sea creature. We can hardly get in the water without running into a pack of these huge fish. Not only do these giants readily attack gamefish on spears or lines, but their sheer size and indifference to humans makes them intimidating even at a distance.
In the 1980’s, scientists found stocks of this species plummeting to dangerous lows. In large part due to their lack of fear and territorial nature, it appeared it was rather easy to target and exhaust this aquatic resource. This lead to legislation passed in 1990 that prohibited all harvesting of the fish in Florida waters. Since then, the population has soared, and large schools of this colossal grouper can be seen on practically every piece of artificial structure offshore. While this may seem like legislative success, the overabundance of the fish creates an issue for any angler or spearfisherman attempting to successfully bring a meal to the boat.
While many scientists are still arguing for continuation of the ban on Goliath harvest, recent outcry by outdoor enthusiasts has the Florida Wildlife Commission working with University of Florida scientists to reassess the fish stock and current management. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will also discuss this issue at their upcoming meeting in February, hopefully shedding some light on the state of this fish. For now, watch your back, and get your fish into the boat as soon as possible, because the Goliaths aren’t going anywhere.
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