Shhhhhhhh. Listen to that. It's the sound of hundreds of feisty, cow-size fish making sweet, sweet love. Early October is the height of spawning season for goliath grouper, which means the rare floating horndogs are getting busy in Miami waters as we speak. In early fall, the once-endangered, hermaphroditic giants meet in packs of 50. Some grow as big as cars, and divers around the globe come to South Florida for the show. Which means guys like Randy Jordan are smiling a lot.
Randy's company, Emerald Charters, runs tours in Jupiter. (Watch a video of him wrangling one of the friendly monsters here.) Tours such as his bring in millions of bucks a year to Miami-Dade, Broward, and the Keys. Mating season is the most exciting time. Says Randy: "It's like a dating game. People love to see such big fish herd up like that."
In the past two weeks, the prehistoric-looking creatures have set off some debate. The question: Are the recovering fish ready to be hunted again?
For the past 19 years, it has been illegal to fish for goliath grouper. They feed off reef life and are a big part of underwater biodiversity. Biologists say the grouper population is still coping with near extinction, and like whales, they grow too slowly to be harvested.
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Chris Koenig is a bespectacled researcher at Florida State University. He's been studying the fish for more than ten years. "They're not ready [to be harvested] yet," he says. "We need to know more about their reproductive biology."
Hunters and fisherman beg to differ. They've recently noticed the creatures congregating to mate, and assume the species is going strong. Some have called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials to advocate reopening fisheries. Lobster hunters -- who are frustrated that the predatory fish sometimes feed on crustaceans -- are leading the way. FWC officials are considering a tag-and-permit system.
Adds Koenig: "It's too early... goliath grouper can't stand up to the fishing pressure."