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FSU biologists fish for reasons behind endangered grouper's comeback

In the waters along Florida's east and west coasts, Florida State University marine biologists are collecting new data on the once severely overfished Atlantic goliath grouper, a native species that is making a comeback in the southeastern United States after a 21-year moratorium on its capture while remaining critically endangered everywhere else in the world.

The three-year study will determine what specific conditions and fishy behaviors are supporting the goliath grouper's population recovery in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico around the Sunshine State.

Findings from the research could help to answer several high-stakes questions: Is there a sustainable fishing level for this species? Or are there better economic uses of this marine resource?

The answers will be crucial to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. They set policy on the management and conservation of the slow-moving, inquisitive giants, some of which grow to lengths of 9 feet and weights of 400 to 800 pounds.

Meanwhile, the new study will be unique in two key ways.

"First, while in the past scientists had to sacrifice the fish to gather age, reproductive and predatory information, at FSU we've developed a non-destructive means of obtaining the data that spares its life," said Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory scientist Christopher C. Koenig, who will lead the project with colleagues at the University of South Florida and the University of Florida.

"Second, those new, non-lethal data-gathering methods allow us to actively engage commercial and recreational fishermen in the scientific process," Koenig said. "We will train the fisherman to obtain scientific samples, and to tag and release the fish."

Among other revealing things, those samples will help Koenig and his colleagues assess the ages of individual Atlantic goliath grouper, which can liv

Contact: Christopher Koenig
Florida State University

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