A fish that can grow to the size of a grizzly bear could soon be hunted in state waters across Florida.
For the first time in 27 years, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering a limited catch of the massive goliath grouper. The fish can get up to 800 pounds and 8 feet long! Several fishermen in Pinellas County have caught goliath groupers tipping the scales at more than 500 pounds.
Erich Jaeger of Maverick Fishing Charters explained, “It comes up and it looks like a Volkswagen bug being pulled out of the water. It's pretty incredible!”
Local fishermen, including Yaeger and Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard Marina in Madeira Beach, claim the massive “sea blimps” are snatching their catches and putting a dent in the fishing industry. They’re hoping FWC authorizes a limited hunt for the massive fish, which have grown in numbers across the state.
"The water around Pinellas County is littered with them!," Yaeger exclaimed.
Right now you can only catch-and-release the goliath groupers, but that could soon change. One idea is to start an annual lottery for 100 permits to catch a single goliath grouper per person, with fees of up to $300 per permit going to goliath grouper research. The youngest and biggest would be spared.
WATCH: St. Petersburg man catches 400-pound fish with wrench
The idea doesn't sit well with diver Teresa Hattaway with Jim's Dive Shop in St. Petersburg.
“They are incredible to see," said Hattaway. "The sheer size of the fish is amazing, but you can catch it, get the picture and then release it so someone else can get the picture, but if you harvest it, it’s gone.”
Hattaway shows the amazing fish to divers across the globe.
“People visit Florida just to see the goliath grouper. I want them to stick around,” she added.
Hattaway worried the fish will be overharvested. It is a headed debate across Florida. That's why FWC wants to hear from you! The wildlife commission is holding 14 workshops around the state to get public input in August and October.
Several environmental groups and some local SCUBA divers are petitioning FWC to forego the hunt and allow the goliath groupers to continue to flourish. Fisherman argue the goliath grouper will continue to grow in numbers and could severely impact their industry.
FWC is hosting the following workshops 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.:
- Aug. 1: Key West, Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel, 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd.
- Aug. 2: Marathon, Hyatt Place Marathon/Florida Keys, 1996 Overseas Highway.
- Aug. 3: Key Largo, Murray Nelson Government Center, 102050 Overseas Highway.
- Aug. 8: Crystal River, Plantation on Crystal River, 9301 W. Fort Island Trail.
- Aug. 9: Carrabelle, Franklin County Senior Citizens Center, 201 NW Ave. F.
- Aug 16: Pensacola, Sanders Beach – Corinne Jones Resource Center, 913 S. I St.
- Aug. 17: Panama City, Bland Conference Center, 4750 Collegiate Drive.
- Oct. 9: Jacksonville, Pablo Creek Regional Library, 13295 Beach Blvd.
- Oct. 10: Titusville, American Police Hall of Fame & Museum, 6350 Horizon Drive.
- Oct. 11: Stuart, Flagler Place, 201 SW Flagler Ave.
- Oct. 12: Davie, Old Davie School Historical Museum, 6650 Griffin Road.
- Oct. 16: Pinellas Park, Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure, 9501 U.S. Highway 19 N.
- Oct. 17: Port Charlotte, The Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 2280 Aaron St.
- Oct. 18: Naples, Collier County Public Library - South Regional, 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway.
If you cannot attend an in-person meeting, you can also submit comments online by visiting MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.