GOLIATH ECONOMICS AND TOURISM
Between Florida’s southeast coast from Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, through the Florida Keys to Key West, the number of adult size fish are still sparse. The same holds true for the northern portion on the state to two coasts, as goliaths are not a fish that can handle water temps below the 60s for very long, as was rediscovered during the January freeze that hit Florida in 2010. This also explains why goliaths are a rarity in waters along the Texas, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina coasts, and pretty much non-existent off the North Carolina coast.
When you consider that their historical range once spanned the entire Bahamas, Caribbean and Central America down to Brazil, it’s apparent that fishing pressure has pushed stocks to complete collapse in over 90 percent of that range, justifying the IUCN’s decision to “Red List” them as a critically endangered species.
Although goliaths are protectedin US waters, it still does not remove them from being hunted illegally. Due to their size, making them easy to spot, and their tendency to travel very short distances, even when pursued, it does not take much effort to track one down. As to what the future holds for the reef’s biggest fish? Only we will be able to answer that by our actions to either retain or lighten their protection.
A REALLY BIG DEAL - DIVING WITH GIANTS
The opportunity to dive with 40 to 90 mammoth groupers massed together for the purpose of propagation is something that is completely unavailable anywhere else in the world but South Florida. In the short span of five years, the clear waters and high volume goliaths present each year has gained almost international popularity among underwater enthusiasts who want to see this annual event.
For underwater photographers, including world-renowned shooters like David Doubilet, this unique event, when conditions are caught just right, are turned into images that defy words.
The timing for seeing these huge spawning aggregations is easy.
In comparison to most other grouper species, the part leading up to the romance is more like a marathon, as some fish will begin their journey to specific rendezvous points as early as mid July.
By mid August, the bulk of the spawning fish have completed their journey, swelling the ranks on a single aggregation site from a dozen big behemoths to a herd topping 40 to 50 fish.
During the summers of 2011 and 2012, the Zion Train/Esso Bonaire wreck site peaked with 90 plus individuals, leaving neighboring spawning sites the MG-111 and Hole-in-the-Wall to muddle along with 40 or so individuals each.
This past summer, the Castor Wreck off Boynton Beach (the most southern spawning site known off Florida’s east coast) received the lion’s share with close to 100 fish.
The shift in preferred locations may have been influenced by a string of cold water upwelling that plagued the first half of the 2013 season. Considering goliaths are not fans of cold water, the upwellings may have pushed a number of fish farther south than normal. — Walt Stearns