Florida could lift 30-year ban on catching goliath grouper

In this Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 photo, released by the Mote Marine Laboratory, a Goliath Grouper swims at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla. Florida may lift its three-decade ban on catching and killing goliath groupers. Wildlife officials are proposing, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, a limited harvest of the giant coastal fish, saying their numbers have rebounded sufficiently since they were almost driven to extinction by overfishing and environmental damage. (Conor Goulding/Mote Marine Laboratory via AP) (Conor Goulding, Mote Marine Laboratory)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s wildlife agency is proposing to lift its three-decade ban on catching and killing goliath groupers, arguing that the species’ numbers have rebounded.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a draft proposal on Wednesday to allow recreational harvest of 200 goliaths per year from March to May. South Florida and the Florida Keys will be off-limits, and the size of the catch will be restricted to between 20 inches (51 centimeters) and 36 inches (91 centimeters).

The proposal remains tentative until a second vote in March 2022, and probably would not effect until 2023, according to agency spokesperson Amanda Nalley. Meanwhile, the agency continues to gather public comment, which people can submit at myfwc.com/saltwatercomments, she said.

The proposal is supported by fishing groups, and it calls for a lottery to issue licenses that allow each recipient to catch and kill one goliath.

The goliath almost died off in the 1980s from overfishing and pollution, and is not allowed to be caught in any other state or federal waters. Similar proposals have been under consideration for a few years.

Critics who oppose lifting the fishing ban argue that the fish’s numbers remain below historic levels and appear to be plateauing or decreasing. They say the species is also susceptible to mass die-offs.


This story was first published on Oct. 6, 2021. It was corrected on Oct. 7, 2021 to show that the state has not lifted the ban on catching goliath grouper. The commission’s vote remains tentative pending a second vote in 2022 and wouldn’t take effect until 2023.