FSU researchers say opening goliath grouper fishery is risky

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Goliath groupers grow to immense size.

Goliath groupers grow to immense size.

Scientists at Florida State University are concerned about the proposal to re-open the Atlantic goliath grouper fishery that has been closed for nearly 30 years.

Approximately 96 percent of goliath grouper exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s risk level for human consumption of 0.3 micrograms per gram weight of total mercury. Some fish reach 25 times that amount.

The FSU researchers explained that while the goliath grouper population has recovered in Florida, it’s still vulnerable to population declines that are the result of cold snaps and red tides. Additionally, there has been extensive loss of mangrove forests in South Florida, which are considered a critical habitat for juvenile groupers.

“There are a few reasons why goliath grouper in Florida is not a suitable fishery species,” Chris Koenig, a research associate at the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory, said in a statement. “Adult goliath grouper carry heavy loads of mercury in their muscles at levels known to be toxic to humans and capable of producing irreversible brain damage in young people. Basically, they are unsafe for human consumption.”

Koenig co-authored the paper with Coastal and Marine Lab Director Felicia Coleman and former graduate student Chris Malinowski.

Koenig and Coleman have been studying the ecology and recovery of goliath grouper for nearly 30 years. With Malinowski, they examined issues that affect goliath grouper productivity to prove the best available scientific information to resource managers who will decide if the fishery reopens.

Atlantic goliath grouper haven’t been commercially fished since 1990. Currently, federal and state agencies are debating re-establishing the fishery, but fish along the Florida coast have the highest known concentrations of liver and muscle mercury of any shallow-water grouper species in Florida. They are also among the highest for Mercury content of any commercial species monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Researchers did note that despite the risk of eating the fish, they still have commercial value to the dive industry, which is a big contributor to Florida’s economy. They can grow up to 7 ½ feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds, making them attractive to drivers who want to add the fish to their list of observed species.

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