Huge groupers, the joy of Florida divers, are now ‘endangered’

The giant grouper, a giant fish that can weigh up to 360 kilograms (about 800 pounds), is a treat for divers in Florida, although scientists warn their numbers are declining since the US state allowed fishing for the giant fish to resume.

“There is no other place where you can experience a fish of this size while diving and be this close to it,” Dr. James Locascio, a marine biologist at the Moti Marine Laboratory, told AFP.

“So, we really feel that the fish is worth a lot more alive than dead.”

During a cruise early this month off Boynton Beach, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast north of Miami, divers were amazed by these giants, which can grow up to 2.4 meters (eight feet) long.

With their naturally curved mouths, these creatures may seem whimsical, but some of them actually allow themselves to be stroked by a human hand.

“We were absolutely amazed at the number of groupers that appeared in the Boynton Beach area,” diver Ben Jalimo told AFP.

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However, he added, “from talking to local people, (the population) numbers have declined” in recent years.

A recent study confirms this trend.

“The diving industry has reported that they are seeing fewer and fewer of these fish,” said Locascio, the marine biologist.

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This could devastate the local diving business.

Last year, when researchers in Mote’s lab repeated a census of breeding sites first conducted in 2013, they observed significantly fewer giant groupers at five of the six sites studied.

Overhunting brought the species to the verge of extinction in the 1980s, but conservation efforts saved it. Goliath grouper fishing has been banned for more than 30 years.

But last year, Florida authorities deemed the fish had recovered sufficiently and allowed 200 of the fish to be caught and killed each year in state waters.

Unfortunately, giant groupers lend themselves to overfishing in part because they grow slowly—they can live up to 30 years—and take a relatively long time to reproduce.

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The giant is now classified as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, according to Locascio.

Describing the fish as an “essential species for maintaining ecosystem balance,” he added, “We do not want their population to decline.”

This huge fish also lives in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and off the coast of Brazil.

(Tags for translation) Environment

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