The goliath grouper is the largest grouper species and in the Atlantic Ocean can be found from Florida to Brazil. This titanic fish can grow over eight feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, but surprisingly, these monster fish generally live in less than 150 feet of water which is shallow for a grouper. Goliath grouper have elongated bodies which can range in color from brown and grey to green with black dots on their fins, body, and head. The head of this big fish is wide, tapered, and slightly flattened.
Goliath grouper fishing has been banned in the Atlantic Ocean including the Gulf of Mexico since 1990. Before the ban, goliath grouper were open to harvest but low reproduction rates combined with slow growth rates meant these fish couldn’t keep up with fishing pressure causing the population to experience a significant decline. While population studies have shown different results, goliath grouper have been classified as critically endangered and vulnerable.
While targeting goliath grouper is still illegal, anglers unintentionally catch these giants while targeting snapper and other grouper species. Goliath grouper primarily feed on shrimp, crab, and fish. Before fishing for them was banned, anglers used a variety of baits to catch them from whole small stingrays to large fish. Because they are opportunistic, any small sea creature would probably be effective. Catching one of these behemoths is not easy and has been compared to reeling in a small car. If you happen to catch a goliath grouper it needs to be released as quickly as possible.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has passed regulations that will reopen fishing for goliath grouper for the first time in 32 years. The new rules require anglers looking to catch a goliath grouper to get a tag. Harvest will be limited to 200 fish and anglers will only be allowed to keep one fish between 24 and 36 inches. The new season was voted on and ratified on March 3rd, 2022 but the season will not open until March of 2023. Florida’s decision to lift the ban on fishing for goliath grouper has been controversial since it was proposed because of how vulnerable this species is to extinction.
If you’re lucky enough to draw a tag for a goliath grouper or happen to hook one by accident, here are the guidelines for handling one of these giant fish if you intend to release it. Once the fish is at the boat you’re required to release the fish as quickly as possible to increase its chances of survival. Delaying the release of a goliath grouper to take measurements or photos is prohibited according to the FWC website. Photos of the fish are allowed to be taken but only while the fish is being released. As a general rule, any large fish should not be removed from the water because their skeletal structure is not able to support their body out of the water. Smaller grouper can be removed from the water to help remove the hook but it depends on the situation.
Updated on December 12, 2022
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