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Florida Wildlife Officials Weigh Whether To Restart Harvest For Goliath Grouper

 Goliath grouper were once a common sight at fishing docks in South Florida. They've been protected since 1990.
Haffenreffer Collection
Monroe County Public Library
Goliath grouper were once a common sight at fishing docks in South Florida. They've been protected since 1990.

State wildlife officials are considering whether to allow people to catch and keep goliath grouper for the first time in more than 30 years.

Goliath grouper can grow to massive size — 800 pounds and 8 feet long.

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But they gather in big groups to spawn, which makes them easy to catch. They're susceptible to cold snaps and red tide. And they grow really slowly, so it takes a long time for the population to recover.

It's been illegal to catch and keep a goliath grouper since 1990. Catch-and-release fishing is legal.

Recently some people say the fish has made enough of a comeback that they're becoming a nuisance, saying that they take people's fish off of lines or spears.

Others, especially divers, say the goliath isn't that plentiful yet and that they're most valuable as an ecotourism attraction.

Staff at the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommend a limited, highly-regulated harvest, similar to what was proposed a couple years ago. That would have allowed catching 100 fish a year for four years.

The commission meets Wednesday and is scheduled to tell staff whether to come back at a future meeting with a proposed rule. A final decision on the grouper’s status could still be months away.

Any decision would apply only to state waters. There are no plans to consider re-opening the fishery in federal waters.

Thursday, the commission is scheduled to hear a presentation about lobster mini-season, with a special emphasis on the Florida Keys. The two-day recreational season is scheduled for July 28 and 29 this year.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.