The Case of the Goliath Grouper


The fishing of goliath groupers is a really big issue. Because goliath groupers are really big.

In fact, as fishes go, Atlantic goliath groupers (Epinephelus itajara) are whoppers: They grow to massive proportions and can weigh up to 455 kilograms/800 pounds. Because of this, they have unquestionably become one of the most desirable “trophy” fish on the planet.

They are also delicious. And vulnerable, for two main reasons: First, goliaths live in shallow tropical waters, at depths from 5-50 metres/16-165 feet, from the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, throughout the Caribbean and along much of the South American coast, sometimes venturing as far north as Maine and across the Atlantic to Africa. Second, they spawn in large aggregations – large numbers of groupers turn up in the same location at the same time to get on with the business of creating the next generation.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the goliath grouper population (along with many fish populations) plummeted due to pressure from commercial and recreational fishermen, including divers and spearfishermen. As a result, taking – harvesting or killing – goliath groupers was prohibited throughout the United States in 1990; their population is recovering in certain areas, and now the pressure from some corners is on to reopen the fishery. Many others oppose this.

Photo by Bill Goodwin, Florida Keys National Marine SanctuaryPADI submitted an official position statement opposing proposals to reopen the goliath grouper fishery in Florida, USA, and backed this up by supporting research on the financial impact of goliath grouper dive tourism. As you can imagine, spawning aggregations are a big draw for divers from not only the immediate locale but from around the world, and they are worth protecting. The real issue is how to achieve this. The answer may well lie in divers’ relatively deep pockets. Money talks (and helps sway decision makers) and the research findings are clear: While recreational fisherman are willing to spend $34-$79 US to harvest a goliath grouper, in-state divers are willing to spend $103-$202 US for goliath grouper encounters; out-of-state divers are willing to pay around $336 US.

That’s pretty significant. It’s great for Florida, which benefits economically. It’s great for divers, who get to dive with dozens of goliath grouper. It’s great for most fishermen, who just have to carefully release any goliath grouper caught (they just can’t “harvest or possess” them). And it’s really good for goliath groupers.

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