Florida may start allowing goliath grouper harvests again as early as 2023.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has taken the first steps towards the state allowing the first goliath grouper harvests since 1990, ending a nearly 30-year ban on the take of the species. The fish received state and federal protections nearly three decades ago due to concerns about overfishing.
The TC Palm reports this will not be a free-for-all when it comes to goliath harvests though. The commission voted to approve rules for a highly limited harvest of just 200 groupers per year. The new rules still must get final approval at the Commission's March 2022 meeting. However, the news organization reports the first harvests could start in 2023.
It is likely there may be some more changes to the regulations before a season is officially announced, but the proposal is for the take of groupers to be allowed from March 1 through May 31. The season would be allowed in all state waters with an exception for Palm Beach County and south along the coast to Monroe County. Dry Tortugas National Park will also be off-limits for grouper harvest.
Much like a coveted big game hunting license, permits for harvest will be determined through a lottery with a limit of one per year for each person. Anglers would need to pay a $10 fee to apply for the lottery and a fee of $500 for a permit.
The TC Palm notes that some of the commissioners were concerned about that fee being too high. They may reduce the fee during final approval. They may also add Martin County to the list of places off-limit to all goliath grouper harvest.
For size limits, the commission is considering a slot limit of 20-36 inches. However, this is another rule that may be increased upon final approval. As for legal methods of take, hook and line will be the only option. All anglers who successfully harvest a grouper will also be required to submit harvest data and other biological information.
The move to approve a season for the goliaths was immediately met with criticism from some groups online. The FWC says the season will not negatively affect the rebuilding of the population.
"Goliath have continued to increase in abundance since the fishery was closed in 1990, and the population can now sustain a limited and highly regulated harvest," a memorandum from Jessica McCawley, the FWC's Director of Marine Fisheries Management reads. "Currently, access to the goliath resource is provided through catch-and-release fishing and diving ecotourism opportunities, but request to reopen harvest have increased in recent years as the population rebuilds."
We will keep an eye on this story and will bring more developments as they come in here at Wide Open Spaces.
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