The Coastal Star

On the Water: A giant win for goliath groupers (and fans) as FWC upholds ban

Scuba divers and dive charter operators turned out in force at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s April 26 meeting in Fort Lauderdale to oppose a proposal that would have allowed a limited harvest of goliath groupers. FWC commissioners scrapped the idea, leaving the groupers' protected status intact. Willie Howard/The Coastal Star

By Willie Howard

After hearing pleas from South Florida scuba divers and dive-charter operators, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission scrapped a proposal to allow anglers to keep a limited number of goliath groupers — a large, slow-growing fish that has been protected from harvest since 1990.

During their April 26 meeting in Fort Lauderdale, FWC commissioners decided not to pursue a rule that would have allowed the statewide harvest of 100 goliath groupers annually. Instead, they directed the agency’s scientists to continue research on goliath groupers and to “develop a road map for future conservation efforts.”

After holding 16 workshops around the state last year, the FWC gathered more than 5,000 comments on the possibility of a limited goliath grouper harvest.

The sentiment at the April FWC meeting was clearly pro-grouper, with many divers in the crowd wearing “Save the Goliath Grouper” T-shirts and dive operators touting the economic value of the big fish, which often linger around artificial reefs during the summer spawning season.

Charter operators said goliath groupers attract divers from around the world to South Florida during the relatively slow summer tourist season.

“There are very few countries that have giant animals like this that will swim right up to you,” said Jim Abernethy, a veteran Palm Beach County dive charter operator. “These types of wildlife interactions are world-class.”

Abernethy showed photographs of one of his favorite goliath groupers, nicknamed Shadow, who he said moves with the group on drift dives. Another goliath grouper, named Wilbur, can be found on the MV Castor wreck off Boynton Beach. Wilbur has become so popular with divers that he has his own Facebook page.

Some divers at the April FWC meeting said the state’s population of goliath groupers — overharvested by anglers and spearfishers during the 1980s — has not recovered enough to justify the proposed harvest.

CCA/Florida, the recreational fishing organization, disagreed, arguing that removing 100 groupers annually from Florida waters would not harm the goliath grouper population.

The FWC staff and others noted that anglers might not eat goliath groupers even if they harvested them, because the flesh of larger groupers contains high levels of mercury.

If a limited harvest of the groupers were allowed, the FWC noted, the agency would have to work with the Florida Department of Health to develop consumption advisories.

“Why are we even considering a fishery?” said Chris Koenig, a retired Florida State University researcher who spent 20 years studying goliath groupers. “We already have a catch-and-release fishery.”

The goliath grouper, Epinephelus itajara, is known to live at least 37 years and can grow up to 8 feet in length and 800 pounds. It reaches sexual maturity at 3 to 6 years of age. But the FWC says there are still many unknowns about the large groupers, meaning more research is needed.

Ed Tichenor, director of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue, told commissioners that allowing goliath groupers to be harvested, even in limited numbers, would be a “state-sanctioned animal sacrifice.”

Goliath groupers often stay around wrecks such as the artificial reefs off Boynton Beach where scuba divers find them. The long-lived groupers have been protected from harvest since 1990. Photo provided by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

FWC increases minimum size for tripletail

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission voted April 26 to increase the minimum size for tripletail by 3 inches, to 18 inches in total length.

The new minimum size takes effect July 1.

Commissioners also reduced the daily bag limit for sheepshead to eight fish per person, a reduction of seven.

Full Moon Wahoo Tournament starts June 30

The West Palm Beach Fishing Club will host its Full Moon Wahoo Tournament Series again this summer with three wahoo-fishing events scheduled around the full moons of June, July and August.

Fishing dates are June 30, July 28 and Aug. 25.

The kickoff party begins at 6 p.m. June 28 at Twisted Trunk Brewery in Palm Beach Gardens.

Cash and merchandise prizes will be awarded.

The entry fee is $60 per team for each full-moon tournament or $150 for all three. Each fishing team must include at least one West Palm Beach Fishing Club member.

Call 309-1397 or visit www.westpalmbeachfishingclub.org.

Paddlers headed to Lake Worth Beach from Bimini

Paddle boarders and kayakers will take to the water early on the morning of June 16 in Bimini for a human-powered trip to Lake Worth Beach as part of the Crossing for a Cure (www.crossingforacure.com).

Travis Suit, whose daughter, Piper, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, started the event in 2013. Suit wanted to raise awareness about people living with the disease.

Participants in this year’s crossing are asked to raise at least $1,000 each for the Piper’s Angels Foundation (www.pipersangels.org). Their journey is scheduled to begin at 1 a.m. in Bimini.

Paddlers are scheduled to arrive on the north side of the Lake Worth pier between 4 and 7 p.m.

Lantana Fishing Derby canceled due to weather

The Lantana Fishing Derby was canceled because of strong winds on May 5.

The National Weather Service issued a small craft advisory that morning, and conditions at Boynton Inlet were dangerous for boaters, said David Arm, tournament chairman and president of the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce.

“The safety of our anglers is our primary concern,” Arm said.

A land-based Kids Derby for boys and girls was held from the platform under the Ocean Avenue Bridge on May 5, with volunteers from the Lantana chamber and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office assisting.

Prize money was awarded by random drawing during the May 6 awards party at the Lantana Recreation Center.

Lagoon fishing tournament helps researchers

The Lake Worth Lagoon Fishing Challenge began May 25 and continues through July 8.

The free fishing tournament, open to anglers ages 5 and older, offers the chance to win prizes.

Fish can be kept if they are of legal size and in season, or may be photographed, measured and released.

The tournament helps scientists gather data about fish in the 20-mile-long estuary, which stretches from Ocean Ridge to North Palm Beach. For details, go to www.LWLI.org/FishingChallenge.

Coming events

June 2: Palm Beach County KDW Classic tournament for kingfish, dolphin and wahoo based at Riviera Beach Marina. Captain’s meeting and final registration 6 p.m. June 1 at Riviera Beach Marina, 200 E. 13th St. Entry fee $300 per boat after May 18. Call 832-6780 or go to www.kdwclassic.com.

June 5: Boynton Beach Fishing Club meets, 7 p.m. in the clubhouse building next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Call 436-4690 or visit www.bifc.org.

June 9: Sail Inn KDW Charity Fishing Tournament for kingfish, dolphin and wahoo. Benefits Hospice of Palm Beach County. Captain’s meeting June 7 at Sail Inn Tavern in Delray Beach. Weigh-in at Palm Beach Yacht Center in Hypoluxo. Entry fee $250 per boat after May 4. Call 703-1907.

June 9: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Fee $35. Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 or email fso-pe@cgauxboca.org.

June 23: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in building next to boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee $25. Register at the door. Call 704-7440.

Tip of the month

Want to take your family to the Bahamas by boat this summer but aren’t confident about crossing to the islands alone? Try joining a group of boaters as part of a “fling” led by the Bahamas Tourist Office. The boating groups leave Bahia Mar Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale on Thursdays and return Sundays on selected dates. The first fling is scheduled for June 21-24. The minimum boat size is 22 feet. The nonrefundable registration fee is $75. For details, call the Bahamas Tourist Office at 800- 327-7678 or visit www.bahamas.com and click on boating.

        Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at tiowillie@bellsouth.net.

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