A group of state and federal fishery managers are not ready to reopen the Goliath grouper fishery for even a scientific harvest, but will continue their efforts to gain more information through nonlethal methods.
Representatives from South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) met in Key Largo on Thursday to discuss Goliath grouper research, the possibility of conducting a stock assessment of the species, and reopening the species to some kind of recreational or scientific harvest.
For the past several years, recreational fishermen and charter captains, especially ones that fish the Gulf, have been lobbying the three fishery management councils to reopen the Goliaths to at least a limited recreational harvest. Anglers can't reel up small snappers without them being snatched off their lines by the giant fish, fishermen say.
Marathon angler Forrest Young proposed a one per boat harvest. But he did argue that fishery managers should not allow them to be speared by divers because the species would be easily wiped out.
"There is an ample amount in the Gulf," said Young, who is also a marine life collector with Dynasty Marine in Marathon. "The stock is healthy."
Dive operators from as far as Palm Beach County attended Thursday's meeting to lobby to keep the ban on harvest in place, arguing that the gentle lumbering beasts are worth far more alive than dead. They said they take their clients to wrecks and other areas inhabited by Goliath groupers as the sheer size of the fish amazes many divers.
"It could be devastating if it just opened up," Palm Beach dive operator Skip Commagere said. "We want to protect it. ... This is not just a benefit for dive shops. This is for hotels and restaurants. They all gain from this fish."
The dive operators are currently organizing an effort to conduct an economic study to determine the value of the Goliath grouper to the dive community, they said.
Gulf Council representative Roy Williams agreed with the dive operators.
"You are using that fish for its highest and best use," said Williams.
The committee agreed to look into conducting genetic tagging to determine age and abundance of the Goliath grouper, to conduct more surveys to determine their range and population, and to continue other research that does not require the fish to be killed to extract data.