State reeling in input about easing ban on Goliath Grouper

The Goliath Grouper, concsidered endangered, is making a comeback in NE Florida. Now, some want it to be legal to reel them in.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- "When you get a hold of one of those things, you know it. It's like grabbing a freight train, said Bill Hunsicker whose son, Billy, wrestled a freight-train-like fish known as the Goliath Grouper.

"This thing was 600 - 700 pounds. It was huge," Hunsicker said.

He said the fish was as long as the width of their boat, so that was about 16 feet long.

"It's mouth was wider than his shoulders," he noted. "These things are like King Kongs running around down there."

Rob Joiner works for Hunsicker as a captain for Endless Summer Fishing Charters in St. Augustine. He said, "We're not allowed to keep those. They said they're endangered."

In 1990, it became illegal to harvest Goliath Grouper in Florida waters and gulf and south Atlantic federal waters, but now they're making a big come back, Joiner said.

While the Goliath Grouper is coming back much more in South Florida, charter fisherman in northeast Florida, like the Hunsickers, say they're seeing more of the Goliath Grouper here.

The state is considering easing the harvesting ban on Goliath Grouper. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is holding workshops to reel in public input throughout the state.

"I think it's time to start to capture some of them," Hunsicker noted. "They're taking over the wrecks and eating the big fish we all want to eat."

He mentioned snapper specifically.

However, the FWC said that while Goliath Grouper do go after easy targets -- such as big fish on hooks -- they mostly eat crustaceans and bottom fishes. The FWC reported that snapper and grouper make up less than 1 percent of the Goliath Grouper diet. 

Also, marine conservationists worry about erasing the ban. Joe Kistel, a marine conservationist, said the Goliath Grouper is "worth more to the state protected because it is the only place in the world" where you can find these giants in such populations. They are also attractive to divers as well as to catch-and-release fisherman.

As for Hunsicker's big catch, Hunsicker said his son "was able to get it to the surface and take the hooks out and return it."

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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