One of the most impressive fish in coastal Florida has been under protection for three decades, but the pressure is mounting to allow sport fishing to resume, and many experts say it could have enormous consequences.
Fishing for the goliath grouper has been off the table since 1990, at a time when they were at the point of near extinction due to over-fishing and habitat destruction. But after 2018, the goliath groupers were no longer classified as critically endangered, leading to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission beginning to rethink the three-decade-long ban. "Goliath groupers have continued to increase in abundance since fishery was closed in 1990," the organization wrote in a statement for National Geographic. And it seemed as though they were facing some pressure from interested parties from the fishing industry.
"For a variety of reasons, some fishermen want harvest to be allowed, including desires for reduced interactions with goliath while fishing, opportunities to harvest a very large fish, and belief that harvest access should not be restricted indefinitely." And while the population had suffered in years prior, the 2018 decision saw the species go from "critically endangered" to "vulnerable," a two-category step forward, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In the eyes of Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, this new classification marked a job well done. "We should applaud our successes," he wrote in a PR statement from May 2021. "Just because we've been doing something for 30 years doesn't mean we need to keep doing it the same way.
For many, the rising population of goliath groupers has actually posed as an inconvenience. Their large size and predatorial habits have interfered in the fishing of other smaller species allowed in the State of Florida. But according to another marine biologist, there was an alternative offer that stressed economic interest. According to Felecia Coleman, the avenue of commercial diving with the large fish was a better idea. "The economic value to the state of Florida of an ecotourism diving industry focused on viewing goliath grouper far outweighs the value of a limited fishery," she said.
With no deadline in place for the decision, we're left wondering what lays ahead for this goliath groupers of the Atlantic.