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Michael Souza

Groupergate - Goliath Grouper Is Overfished

By October 30, 2012

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    Not slayer of spiny lobster
goliath grouper
    In Florida, the Goliath grouper is considered to be responsible for the depleting of spiny lobster harvest, and sport fishermen blame them for eating snappers.
    But a recent study has vindicated the fish. Independent scientist Sarah Frias' study, released this month, found that goliath groupers are not the cause for declining lobster and snapper stocks in Florida. According to her study, overfishing is the main cause.
    The goliath grouper fishery has been closed for 16 years, about the average generation time of the fish and about twice the time it takes for a newborn to reach sexual maturity. Fishermen have proposed thinning the stock with the expectation of increasing lobster and snapper yields. It's a recurring argument the past two years from those who say the species has made a full recovery, despite evidence that fisheries remove far more than ocean predators.
    Frias analyzed the food web of the goliath grouper and other fish that feed on lobsters and snappers. A potential reopening of the goliath grouper fishery to thin the stock raises ecological concerns.
    Fishermen are already harvesting the fish illegally. Last year, a photo of a goliath grouper with a spear tip in its head was given to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A January 2010 cold snap may have affected future populations, according to a Florida State University marine biology professor who has conducted research on goliath grouper. The cold may have killed up to 95 percent of the juvenile population in the Everglades and other mangrove areas off Florida. Juveniles spend their first five years in the shallow mangrove habitats.
    The goliath grouper is the largest of the western Atlantic Ocean grouper. They can reach 8 feet long and 880 pounds.
    Some have urged fishery managers to allow a certain number of the groupers to be harvested for research purposes, facilitating a more accurate stock assessment.
    The FWC agreed in 2011 to empanel the Ad Hoc Goliath Grouper Steering Committee to study goliath grouper; it has met twice in the past year.
    The committee comprises representatives from the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management councils, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and FWC, said Amanda Nalley, FWC spokeswoman. The committee is to find a way to assess the stock and collect other information -- but current methods to get that data mean catching and dissecting goliath grouper.
    The committee decided to develop a stakeholder survey to determine expectations of those concerned about goliath grouper management would poll parties in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. It's projected to be completed in January 2013.


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