Commissioners bide time on deciding goliath grouper closures

goliath grouper fwc
Commissioners feel they have time to work out some of the issues involved.

Florida’s wildlife Commissioners decided to hold off on making a decision that would’ve prevented catch-and–release fishing at three goliath grouper spawning aggregation sites in state waters in the Atlantic Ocean off Martin and Palm Beach counties. The prohibition would’ve been seasonal, July 15-Oct. 15 each year.

The rule they’re considering would go into effect in July 2023, which Commissioners felt gives them time to work out some of the issues involved. 

“I’ve heard some questions about whether the buffer areas are in the right places,” Commissioner Robert Spottswood said at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) meetings in Panama City this week. “I’ve heard questions about, are we being fair to all of the user groups here? Should it be closed to everybody, or should it be closed to fishermen? I’ve heard something about the mortality rate being less than 5% — I’m not sure that’s accurate or not. 

“So, I’ve got a lot of questions going on that I’d like to suggest we kick this back to staff a little while longer. We’ve got another chance to bring this back, I believe we have a chance in February to look at this again. We’d have a chance to look at it in May. The idea that we’d close access without sufficient knowledge of some of these questions kind of concerns me a bit.”

Commissioners approved delaying a decision until the May meeting, which, according to staff, will allow appropriate time to continue meeting with the public.

FWC reopened the goliath grouper fishery in March, albeit on a limited basis. Provisions included in the authorizations involved a harvest closure from Martin County through the Atlantic coast of the Florida Keys. No decisions were made on closing spawning aggregation spots to other activity, however.  

The three areas are off Martin and Palm Beach counties — the MG-111 barge and Warrior Reef offshore by the county line, then the wrecks of the Ana Cecelia and Mizpah, and the wrecks of the Castor and Bud Bar. The rule would’ve banned fishing within 1,000 feet of these sites for the season.

Workshops held in the meantime produced mixed responses from the public.

“Anglers mostly believe catch-and-release has little impact on goliath, while divers feel that it may disrupt spawning or cause mortality,” FWC biologist Derek Cox said. “Anglers are generally opposed to seasonal fishery closures at these sites, as they believe there is a lack of data to support that catch-and-release at these sites significantly affects spawning activity or the population as a whole.” 

Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto apologized to the public for the FWC not making a final decision now, but the amount of new information brought forward deserved a period of consideration.


Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:

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