"While we'd like to be optimistic about their recovery, the reality is that goliath grouper are exceptionally vulnerable to fishing pressure," Coleman said. "They also are vulnerable to habitat loss, which in the South Florida ecosystem has been altered to such a high degree over the last 100 years that suitable mangrove nursery habitat in all probability presents a serious bottleneck to production of this species.
Koenig points to a misperception that the goliath grouper is an invasive, nuisance species - though the fish is a native that evolved for millions of years on Florida and Caribbean reefs.
"Fisherman may perceive that all other species they target, such as snapper, now are at an all-time low, and since the protected goliath grouper is on its way to recovery, they may assume the goliath grouper is to blame for the decline in the other species," Koenig said. "But many of those other target species are themselves heavily overfished and still undergoing overfishing, and current data show that goliath groupers eat mostly crabs and slow-moving spiny fish and have a positive effect on the ecosystem because of the type of habitat they create by digging."
"Clearly we must do a better job as scientists and fishery managers to educate the public about marine systems," Coleman said.
Funding for the current Atlantic goliath grouper study comes from a $481,664 grant awarded to Koenig and Coleman by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Fisheries Initiative. The research team also includes USF Assistant Professor Christopher Stallings and UF Associate Professor Debra Murie.
|Contact: Christopher Koenig|
Florida State University