Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara)
At a maximum weight of about 800 pounds, the goliath grouper ranks as the largest grouper in the western Atlantic. Such a large fish makes for an impressive catch! Many anglers want a photograph to go along with their fish story of the big one that didn't get away. This article will help you understand some of the important rules protecting this unique fish.
Goliath grouper are a prohibited species; therefore the species receives greater protection to ensure its continued health. An FWC rule states that "No person shall harvest in or from state waters, nor possess while in or on the waters of the state, or land, any Nassau grouper or goliath grouper."
Another FWC rule defines the proper catch and release techniques for all reef fishes, including goliath groupers. It states that harvest means the catching or taking of a fish by any means whatsoever, followed by a reduction of such fish to possession. Fish that are caught but immediately returned to the water free, alive and unharmed are not harvested. In addition, temporary possession of a fish for the purpose of measuring it to determine compliance with the minimum size requirements shall not constitute harvesting such fish, provided that it is measured immediately after taking, and immediately returned to the water free, alive and unharmed if undersized.
The latter part of the above definition describes temporary possession for the purpose of measuring for compliance of size requirements. Since the harvest of goliath groupers is prohibited, there is no reason to measure the fish, except for scientific purposes. Because of this, the release of the fish must be immediate.
The skeletal structure of large goliath grouper cannot adequately support their weight out of the water without some type of damage. If a large goliath grouper is brought on-board a vessel it is likely to sustain some form of internal injury. Thus, if the fish is harmed it could be considered harvested by definition. As stewards of our resources, this is something we should avoid. It also means the fish is "harvested" according to the rules, and goliath groupers may not be harvested.
Removing smaller goliath groupers from the water to remove hooks is not necessarily a bad practice, but this process must be done with care, using proper fish handling techniques, and as expeditiously as possible.
The taking of photographs after removal of hooks and posing for pictures with goliaths is not considered an immediate release of the fish.
The number of goliath groupers in Florida state waters has increased since its designation as a prohibited species. Because many anglers are encountering and catching these unique fish, FWC law enforcement officers will initially be taking an educational approach to discourage the "boating" of large goliath groupers for photo opportunities and will also educate the public that the retention of smaller goliaths for photographs is not considered an immediate release. Photographing your big catch without removing it from the water will ensure that you are acting within the regulations.
Understanding the importance of your contribution to marine resource management and conservation is vital to maintaining healthy fish stocks. You have a direct effect on the resource every time you go fishing. Adhering to fishing regulations means healthier fish populations. Good fisheries management means better fishing in the future!