Harvest is prohibited without a permit. See Goliath Harvest Program for more information on the limited, highly regulated harvest opportunity
Catching and Releasing Goliath Grouper
- If you capture a goliath grouper, the fish must be immediately released alive, unharmed, and with proper fish handling techniques.*
- Do not remove large goliath groupers from the water. The skeletal structure of a large goliath grouper cannot support its weight out of the water and if brought aboard a vessel or removed from the water, the fish may sustain fatal injuries.
- FWC recommends anglers also keep smaller goliath groupers in the water when removing a hook.
- If a goliath grouper shows signs of barotrauma, use a descending device or venting tool to help the fish return to depth.
- You can photograph your catch if you follow the recommendations listed here and if it does not delay the release of the fish in any way.
*Exception only if the angler possesses the required recreational goliath harvest permit and tag, and the fish meets the harvest regulations.
Goliath Harvest Program
200 permits available each year
Permits are non-transferable
Two permit categories:
- Category I: Allows harvest in all open areas, including Everglades National Park (ENP).
- Category II: Permit includes harvest allowance in open areas, but not Everglades National Park (ENP).
- Application: $10 non-refundable
- If awarded permit: $150 for Florida residents, $500 for non-residents
Bag Limit: 1 fish per person during open season, with permit and tag
24” – 36” Total Length
Non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks are required when using natural baits
Must possess and use a dehooking device
Season: Open March 1 – May 31
Closed Areas: state waters of Martin County (including the St. Lucie River and its tributaries) south through the Atlantic coast of the Keys, Dry Tortugas National Park, and all federal waters.
Permitted harvesters must:
- Report goliath harvest data within 24 hours of harvest to the Commission’s online harvest reporting system, available at: https://GoOutdoorsFlorida.com and through the Fish|Hunt Florida app on Apple and Android devices.
- Report that no harvest occurred to the Commission’s harvest reporting system within 24 hours after the season closes if they do not harvest a goliath grouper.
- Provide a biological sample of harvested goliath grouper if required by the terms of the permit.
A giant of the grouper family, the goliath (formerly called jewfish) has brown or yellow mottling with small black spots on the head and fins, a large mouth with jawbones that extend well past its small eyes, and a rounded tail. It also has five dark body bands or stripes that are most visible on young goliath.
Goliath grouper is the largest of the Atlantic groupers. This giant can reach 800 pounds (455 kg) and over 8 feet (2 meters) in length. The Florida record is a 680-pound goliath grouper caught off Fernandina Beach in 1961. Prior to harvest being prohibited in 1990, the species had been targeted both commercially and recreationally since at least the late 1800s.
There are a number of factors that make goliath susceptible to overfishing, including declines in juvenile habitats, a tendency to gather in high numbers at predictable locations during spawning events, and being long lived. Goliath are also susceptible to large-scale mortality events, such as cold snaps and red tide blooms.
When not feeding or spawning, adult goliath groupers are generally solitary, sedentary, and territorial. Before goliath grouper reach full-size may be preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel and moray eels as well as sandbar and hammerhead sharks. Once fully grown, large sharks are the goliath grouper's only natural predators.
Goliath grouper are relatively long-lived, with a maximum known age to be at least 37 years old.
Goliath grouper were historically found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, both coasts of Florida, and from the Gulf of Mexico down to the coasts of Brazil, and the Caribbean.
In waters off Florida, young goliath grouper spend up to 5-6 years in estuaries and mangrove habitats. Areas such as the Ten Thousand Islands in southwest Florida seem to be a center of abundance for juvenile goliath and may serve as critical nursery habitat. As they grow, goliath grouper move to shallow reefs, eventually joining adult populations offshore on shallow artificial and natural reefs. Adults seem to prefer habitat with high relief or structure such as overhangs, ledges, bridges, piers, and shipwrecks.
Goliath grouper are opportunistic predators and feed mostly on slow-moving, bottom-associated species. Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, in addition to other invertebrate species and fish. Goliath grouper will occasionally feed on fish that are struggling on a fishing line, but they have not been shown to actively hunt down fast, free swimming fish, such as snappers and other groupers. Prey is ambushed, caught by a rapid expansion and opening of the mouth which allows prey to be sucked in and swallowed whole.
Reproductive maturity first occurs in fish 5 or 6 years of age (about 36 inches in length). Males mature at a smaller size (about 42 inches) and slightly younger age than females. Females first mature at 6-7 years of age and 47-53 inches in length. In the eastern Gulf, goliath grouper have been known to form spawning groups of 100 individuals or more. These groups occur at consistent sites such as wrecks, rock ledges and isolated patch reefs during July, August and September. Studies have shown fish may move up to 62 miles (100 km) from inshore reefs to these spawning sites. In southwest Florida, presumed courtship behavior has been observed during the full moon in August and September.
Alternative management goals and metrics were adopted in 2018 to evaluate the stock through ongoing research. These goals and metrics provide a way to assess goliath without conducting a full-scale traditional fisheries stock assessment.
Because goliath is not suited to traditional fisheries stock assessments FWC uses five metrics to benchmark goliath’s performance against five management goals (see table below).
|Relative indices of abundance||Long-term stability or increase for juveniles and adults|
|Abundance on natural reefs||Increased adult density on natural reefs|
|Genetic diversity||Increased genetic diversity, low level of inbreeding|
|Population size||Increased genetic “effective population size” for Atlantic and Gulf stocks|
|Population age structure||Expanded presence of fish in older age classes|