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Living Sanibel: Goliath grouper

By Staff | Sep 27, 2017

Goliath grouper with diver. Photo by Lorraine Sommers.

Regionally, only the great hammerhead shark is larger than this immense grouper. In the 1800s there were reported catches of goliaths that weighed an unbelievable 1,500 pounds! A goliath this size would be more than 10 feet long and capable of swallowing a 50-pound fish whole! Sadly, because of over-harvesting by spear fishermen using explosive power heads or bang sticks, the goliath grouper population in Florida’s waters was brought to the brink of extinction. There is a complete ban on the taking of any goliath grouper, juvenile or adult, in the state of Florida. The IUCN (World Conservation Union) has recently placed the goliath grouper on its critically endangered list. In Florida the fish is recovering from decades of excessive fishing.

The goliath grouper is vulnerable to red tide and water pollution, and can sometimes be found washed up on the beach. It is sometimes caught by shark fishermen at night from the Sanibel and causeway fishing piers. The adult grouper has sharp spines in its first dorsal fin, which it erects when alarmed. Because of its size and power, the goliath should be handled with the utmost care.

Although many of the biggest goliaths are found well offshore, it is almost as common inshore. A large school of goliaths is known to live under the causeway spans, though catching one on normal tackle is impossible. Catch-and-release fishing for goliath grouper should be discouraged because of possible damage to the internal organs of the fish. It should never be taken up and out of the water, as doing so can cause serious injury or death to the fish.

The goliath eats almost anything it wants to eat or can catch. Its primary food is crab, fish, octopus, and slower-moving bottom fish such as burrfish, toadfish, lizardfish and stingrays. Underwater it makes a loud, booming noise when approached; this is believed to be a warning to anyone or anything getting too close.

Today, because of its recovery, it is not at all uncommon to catch juvenile goliath grouper inshore. It feeds in the mangroves, under docks and bridges, and is often taken when fishing for gag grouper. If caught, it must be released. If the fish has a tag, note the information on the tag, leave the tag on the fish, then safely return it to the water. Researchers at Florida State University are conducting a long-term study of the Florida goliath grouper population and can be notified of these tagged fish and any catch-and-release events by e-mailing the information to ifre@bio.fsu.edu.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.