More than 30 years have gone by since anglers in Florida have been able to catch, keep and eat goliath grouper. That all changes in 2023 when state wildlife regulators will allow a limited harvest of 200 individuals.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) says successful conservation efforts by state and federal agencies over the past three decades helped rebuild the goliath grouper population following years of overfishing. Goliaths take five to six years to reach sexual maturity and often live in mangrove habitat during that time. As they mature, the oversize groupers move out to shallow reefs, where they spawn in large aggregations, returning to the same spots regularly.
“I am 100 percent in favor of a limited and calculated harvest of goliath grouper, as they dominate nearshore wrecks and reefs,” says Capt. Benny Blanco, who guides in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. “While I don’t target them, I absolutely believe they contribute to loss of recruitment classes for redfish, snook, tarpon, seatrout and other species. I won’t participate in the actual harvest, but I support it.”
How to Get A Grouper Tag
In order for an angler to keep a goliath grouper, they must first apply online ($10) and be chosen to receive a permit via random-draw lottery. The time is now to apply at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com for the upcoming 2023 season — the FWC will accept applications from Oct. 15-30, 2022. (Note: If you plan to fish in Everglades National Park, make sure to apply for the category that includes that area.)
Winners will receive a harvest permit and tag ($150 for residents, $500 for non-residents), allowing them to participate in the 2023 season that runs from March 1 – May 31. The permit, tag, and additional information such as designated harvest area will be mailed to successful applicants no later than a month before the season starts.
Goliath Grouper Reporting Requirements
Any angler who keeps a goliath grouper must report their catch within 24 hours at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, through the Fish Hunt Florida app, or by calling 888-486-8356. Second, an angler may have to provide a biological sample of their catch if required by the terms of their permit. Anglers who end up not keeping a grouper in 2023 must report they didn’t harvest a fish to the FWC’s harvest reporting system within 24 hours of the season closing.
Off Limits for Goliath Grouper
Some areas are off limits to goliath grouper harvesting. Anglers cannot keep any goliath grouper caught in federal waters. Florida state waters are mostly open, except from Martin County south all the way to the Atlantic Coast of the Keys, all of the St. Lucie River and its tributaries, and Dry Tortugas National Park.
“We catch and break-off plenty of the bigger goliath groupers around the bridges and offshore on the wrecks,” says Capt. Jeremy Neff, who charters fishing clients in Martin and St. Lucie counties. “The smaller goliaths are around the mangroves, and even along the channel edges where there’s a change of 5 to 10 feet. We’re not really targeting the grouper, but we catch them when fishing for snook, snapper and even tripletail.”
Other Goliath Grouper Season Details
- The slot limit is 24 to 36 inches total length
- Limit is one fish per person per season with proper permit and tag
- Hook and line only; no spear fishing
- Just 50 goliath groupers can be taken from Everglades National Park
- Permits and tags are non-transferable
- No exemptions apply
“The highly regulated, limited take of goliath grouper is an exciting and unique opportunity to provide access to this resource after decades of closure and we believe limited access is sustainable,” said FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood. “We also look forward to collecting the post-harvest data to help guide future management decisions for this species.”