|The Goliath Grouper and SEDAR Resolution Process
The goliath grouper is the largest of the western Atlantic groupers, having the ability to grow to over 800lbs and more than 8’ long if given the ability to reach maximum size. However, in the last century, the population of these massive fish has been overexploited to the point of near extinction. They were dragged up in nets by commercial fisherman by the hundreds, and recreational anglers would target them due to the sheer volume of meat that could be harvested from only one fish. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in collaboration with South Atlantic & Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made the executive decision to classify this grouper as critically endangered which permanently closed any recreational or commercial harvest of this fish, as well as criminalizing the possession of a goliath grouper in state or federal waters. To date however, stock assessments have shown an increase in the population of this fish which bring up the question of whether or not a season of some sort should be opened up to allow people to target these fish. The issues that are brought up are mainly between commercial & recreational fisherman and the various state and federal agencies that have control over this issue, and have in the past caused conflict between these groups. This case study aims to: (1) introduce the history and biology behind the current stock assessments and status of this case, (2) identify the main stakeholders involved with the decision making process, and (3) discuss the actions that have been taken to address this issue, focusing mainly on the SEDAR (Southeast Data, Assessment and Review) 23 for the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Goliath Grouper. SEDAR 23 is a workshop series that was open to the public with the aim of assessing the most current data and making decisions on how to move forward regarding regulations placed on the Goliath Grouper.
Although currently protected, the goliath grouper was subject, like so many other animals, to exploitation to the near point of extinction by humans. There are many different human factors influencing this tragedy, however biology of this fish also contributes substantially. This grouper has a very slow growth rate and late sexual maturity, usually occurring between 5 and 6 years of age. Like many other species of fish, the goliath grouper is an aggregate spawner, meaning that they conglomerate in massive numbers offshore to spawn. The large numbers and high density of fish in small areas during spawning season makes them an easy target for predators; their large size however means that they have very few natural predators except for large sharks, so their primary predators are humans. After the eggs are laid offshore and hatch the baby grouper have to make the long journey inshore. Having a pelagic larval duration of 6 weeks means that they have only this amount of time to travel the distance from the offshore reefs to the mangrove habitat in which they mature. Besides the natural predators hat feed upon the grouper fry, the mangrove habitat they depend upon to grow in has been depleted to a fraction of its former glory. Development along the Florida coastline is the primary cause for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of mangroves, creating less area for not only the juvenile goliath grouper to reside but for countless of other estuarine species as well. The range of the range of this fish stretches from the Florida-Georgia line on the east coast of the peninsula through the panhandle of the Floridan Peninsula, with the highest populations of this fish being found from roughly Tampa Bay to West Palm Beach. The latter area has the highest amount of waterfront development in the state and is also the primary range for red, white and black mangroves. This massive loss of habitat also contributes greatly to the near-depletion of goliath grouper stocks that have been seen in the past decades.
GOLIATH GROUPER SITINGS AND RANGE