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Stop the Harvest of the Endangered Goliath Grouper in Florida
By Jason Heller, August 13, 2007 @ 02:00 AM (EST)

One of our concerned members, Edward Dorson, brought  this issue to my attention this week, after he responded to an appeal recently made by underwater photographer Walt Stearns. Somehow the fisheries management groups in Florida have decided that the best way to learn more about the reproductive and other biological aspects of the Goliath Grouper is to enlist fishermen to take 800 of these beautiful creatures over the next 2 years for scientific research.

Once popular residents on the reefs in southeast Florida, they virtually disappeared from fishing pressures. But in recent years the Goliath Grouper staged a comeback. As a diver, I take issue with pulling 800 of these magnificent creatures from the ocean. In an era where the large, easy targeted fish are disappearing before our eyes, I'd rather opt to understand less about them and allow them continue roaming the seas. However, the fisheries departments don't see it that way.

Below I have compiled some information on the issue and I'm including a form letter, drafted by Edward, that you can use or modify to send to the appropriate parties voicing your concern and protest

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Division of Marine Fisheries Management

December 22, 2006
/ Revised February 1, 2007

Goliath Grouper

The Gulf Council also received a report on the status of a goliath grouper research proposal. An unintended outcome of the harvest moratorium on goliath grouper is that it greatly reduced the number of specimens available for life history studies. Although some researchers have attempted to address this issue by using nondestructive sampling techniques (e.g., collection of fin rays and spines for aging and the use of catheters for sampling gonadal tissues) or by taking advantage of fish that died naturally (e.g., during red tide fish kill events) it is no coincidence that the majority of studies conducted during the past 16 years have focused on goliath grouper occurrence, size distribution, movements and abundance in different habitats. In other words, studies that do not require sacrificing fish for collection of biological information.

Although these studies supplement our knowledge of goliath grouper biology and life history they fall short of addressing critical data needs for managing this fishery. For example, size and age at sexual maturity, ecundity and spawning frequency, spatial and temporal distribution of fish by age, etc. Accomplishing this would require sacrificing specimens for scientific purposes—especially if life history parameters are to be evaluated over a wide range of sizes and ages. To address this issue, the Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWC-FWRI) and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fishery Science Center (NMFS-SEFSC) are proposing to develop a joint, collaborative research program directed at goliath grouper in the South Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico. This research program would include the harvest of a limited number of goliath grouper for scientific purposes. Biological
samples (otoliths, gonad tissue, etc.) collected through this limited harvest program would be used to advance our knowledge of goliath grouper age, growth, and reproduction, as well as supplement ongoing Federal Issues 8 studies on feeding habits. However, besides providing specimens for life history studies, we believe that development of a State-Federal Cooperative Goliath Grouper Research Program will improve coordination of goliath grouper research activities being currently conducted or planned by scientists at FWC-FWRI, NMFS, and Florida State University, as well as facilitate consistent management of this species in State and Federal waters. We propose that implementation of this cooperative research program be accomplished according to the following recommendations:

1. In response to the recent public interest in reopening the fishery we propose that scientific research projects developed under the Cooperative Goliath Grouper Research Program (CGGRP) be conducted with the assistance of commercial and/or recreational fishers (e.g. for the collection of specimens). Fishers participating in this program would be required to coordinate activities with scientists submitting proposals to the CGGRP so their names can be listed in scientific collection permits issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (for state waters) and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service (for federal waters).2. Based on the goliath grouper population estimates, we recommend that a maximum of 800 goliath grouper be harvested in the South Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico. As an additional precautionary measure we also recommend that the harvest of these 800 fish be distributed over a 2-year period with a maximum of 400 individuals harvested each year. We believe this precautionary harvest level would provide an appropriate number of specimens for scientific studies without compromising recovery of the stock.

3. As part of this program the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will issue 800 numbered plastic “harvest tags” (analogous to the tags FWC issues annually for harvest of tarpon in Florida) to be distributed to scientists participating in the CGGRP. Each goliath grouper harvested under this program will be required to have one of the numbered harvest tags attached to its lower jaw. This will facilitate identification of specimens harvested for scientific study (for enforcement purposes) as well as provide a high degree of coordination for when, where, and why goliath grouper specimens are being collected.

4. Research projects developed under the CGGRP will cover a wide range of topics with emphasis on goliath grouper life history and population dynamics. We propose that a Research Planning Meeting (specific dates and locations to be determined) be conducted as the first step in implementing the CGGRP. During this meeting scientists from federal and state agencies, and academic institutions, as well as stakeholders (industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations, etc.) will jointly identify research
priorities and coordinate the development of specific research projects that maximize the amount of information collected from each goliath grouper being harvested.

More on the Story from Ocean Futures Society

More from Walt Stearns / Underwater Journal (issue#3)

More on the Goliath Grouper from FishBase.org

Here is an example of a letter you can send to the Dept. for Marine Fisheries and the Southeast Fisheries Science Center.

Luiz Barbieri, Researcher
Department for Marine Fisheries Research
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
100 8th Avenue SE
St. Petersburg, FL 33701-5020

Alex Chester, Science and Research Director
Southeast Fisheries Science Center
75 Virginia Beach Drive
Miami, Florida 33149
E mail:
PH: 305-361-4259, ex: 259

Mr. Rodney Barreto, Chairman
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
235 Catalonia Ave
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Clay E. Porch
NOAA, NMFS, Southeast Fisheries Science Center Sustainable Fisheries Division
75 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami, FL. 33149

Cc Dr. Roy Crabtree, Southeast Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service
Dr. Bill Hogarth, Director of National Marine Fisheries Service
Mr. Billy Causey, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Southeast Regional Superintendent
Dr. Richard Murphy, Director of Science and Education, Ocean Futures Society
Dr. Felicia Coleman, Associate Scholar Scientist, Department of Biological Science, Florida State University
Dr. Chris Koenig, Reef Fish Ecology Group, Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory
Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres, Assistant Scientist, CIMAS RSMAS, University of Miami
Mr. Don DeMaria

Re: CGGRP proposal to kill 800 Goliath Grouper in Florida

Dear Sirs,

It has come to my attention that a plan targeting 800 deaths of federally protected Goliath Grouper, described as a research proposal, is being advanced as a scheme called the Cooperative Goliath Grouper Research Program (CGGRP). This plan has already started presentation in the public hearing at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting that commenced on Aug. 6, 2007 in St. Pete, Florida. A final decision has yet to be stipulated and more meetings are to take place in the coming weeks. I wish to voice my opinion as both a diver and as an environmentally concerned citizen that I strongly protest consideration that would condone the implementation of any aspect of this CGGRP action.

I have familiarized myself with the terms of the CGGRP proposal. It is, in my opinion, derelict in terms of ecology, in economy (the lost revenue from the dive community alone), and in morality. Both the Florida State University scientific community and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service have voiced opposition to this CGGRP plan. Aside from the ecological and economical damage, killing them wouldn't even come close to being
sport: Goliath Groupers, by nature relatively slow moving and docile, are now completely acclimated to the presence of boats and divers in Florida waters since being protected in 1990.

Perhaps proponents of the CGGRP believe this is an original and clever scheme, but a magnified version using "scientific research" to kill endangered marine species has been underway for decades: Japan's disgraceful use of the International Whaling Commission's "scientific research" loophole in order to continue their slaughter of the whales. Such a vile tactic should never gain a foothold in U.S. waters.

In the case of the Goliath Grouper population, still considered critically endangered by the World Conservation Union, the ban created in 1990 exists as one of the few beacons where a species was pulled back from certain extinction. The members of the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife who honor their role of stewardship should take a position to make a public impact in denouncing this kind of irresponsible and deceitful action and not allow its implementation.

Today, with a greater knowledge of the both the ignorant and willful mismanagement of living resources on behalf of vested interests, public attitudes about the health of the oceans are finally changing. People are much more inclined to respect and admire marine species rather than harm them needlessly. With that in mind, I respectfully urge that a threshold be established with the FWC vigorously abandoning this CGGRP proposal.


(your name)



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