Archives for posts with tag: SCUBA

The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA), is the international trade association for the recreational scuba diving and snorkeling industry. DEMA supports the continued protection of Goliath Groupers in Florida.

Tom Ingram, DEMA President and CEO, recently wrote a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regarding their proposal that, if approved, would allow killing the critically endangered Goliath Grouper.

You can attend the FWC workshops, write emails to the FWC Commissioners (commissioners@MyFWC.com), call (850-487-0554) or post your comments here

Today, Tom Ingram is my guest blogger. Here is the letter he sent to FWC, copied to Rick Scott, Florida Governor, Nick Wiley, FWC Executive Director, Bob L. Harris, Esq., attorney in Tallahassee and the DEMA Board of Directors.

August 8, 2017

From: Tom Ingram, President and CEO Diving Equipment and Marketing Association 3750 Convoy Street Suite 310, San Diego, CA 92111

To: Chairman Brian Yablonski Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Farris Bryant Building 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399

Dear Commissioner Yablonski:

Having reviewed the “Goliath Grouper Review and Discussion” produced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) for presentation on February 8, 2017, as well as for Goliath Grouper Workshops slated for August through October 2017, I am writing to express our concerns regarding the possible lifting of the current moratorium on harvesting these animals.

The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) is the international trade association for the recreational scuba diving and snorkeling industry. DEMA has more than 1,400 business members worldwide, and represents the interests of diving manufacturers, diver training organizations, the diving-related magazines and media, diving retailers and dive travel and dive charter operators. DEMA’s mission is to bring businesses together to grow the diving industry worldwide, and our goals include promoting recreational scuba diving and snorkeling, while protecting the underwater environment.

DEMA is aware of the lead role FWC took in the 2013-2016 stock assessment conducted by the Joint Ad Hoc Council Goliath Grouper Committee. We applaud the FWC for this effort, and we support such periodic stock assessments when they include sound scientific inquiry and input from all user groups affected by any change in the current harvesting status.

As you know, in 2016 the results of this Council’s assessment were rejected by a group of independent scientists for use in management of the stocks of goliath grouper in federal waters, pointing to the fact that, “the results were not deemed suitable primarily because of missing information needed to generate an accurate ‘model’ of the fishery.”

The many challenges to assessing this species, as outlined on February 8, 2017, FWC presentation, point to the need for further study prior to opening this species to a harvest of any kind. Therefore, DEMA favors the following:

1. Maintaining the current harvesting status of the goliath grouper in Florida; that is, harvest and possession should be prohibited.

2. FWC or NOAA (or another appropriate agency or scientific organization) should undertake a more thorough stock assessment of the goliath grouper that satisfies the need for accurate scientific data on stocks of these fish.

3. FWC or NOAA (or another appropriate agency or scientific organization) should conduct additional research on the age of these creatures, such that any future assessment would have more validity.

4. FWC should review its current regulations to determine if protections for goliath grouper could be implemented commensurate with protections afforded to manatees.

DEMA’s position is taken in recognition of FWC’s own list of assessment challenges and the 2016 conclusion that information needed to generate an accurate model of the fishery was missing. Without solid scientific evidence of recovery, it appears that the goliath grouper remains vulnerable to overfishing due to (among several reasons) late maturity, slow growth and is subject to large scale mortality.

As the Commission is also aware, over the last twenty-seven years during which harvesting was prohibited, goliath grouper have become extremely popular hosts to underwater habitats and are mentioned frequently by visiting/tourist divers who greatly enjoy watching these remarkable creatures roam the ocean floor. The goliath grouper’s size, visibility, low birth rate and slow movement seem to trace another of Florida’s truly majestic waterborne creatures, the manatee, a protected species that also has considerable ecotourism value. If harvesting is allowed without verified stock assessments, goliath grouper could easily be thrown back to species extinction.

Goliath WStearns MG111 Edited

Goliath Grouper spawning aggregation. SCUBA divers from all over Florida, the USA and the world pay to dive with these gentle giants in Florida. Photo credit: W. Stearns

In addition to concern regarding the stocks of these fish, DEMA also relies on the opinions of divers and dive-related businesses regarding the current harvesting status of goliath grouper. In a July 2017 DEMA survey of divers and dive professionals, more than 69% indicated their desire to maintain the current moratorium on harvesting the goliath grouper. Among those located in Florida, 64% indicated a desire to maintain the moratorium, while among those traveling to Florida to dive and see the goliath grouper while diving (bringing tourist and tax revenue to the state) the number rose to more than 77%.

With the results of studies included in FWC’s February 8, 2017 presentation indicating high levels of mercury in the flesh of goliath grouper, and with a high economic value among divers, especially those from outside of Florida who are willing to pay $336.00 to see these fish (as compared to a maximum of $79 for fishers to harvest a goliath grouper), it seems most appropriate economically and scientifically to maintain the moratorium on the goliath grouper harvest.

DEMA strongly recommends maintaining the current prohibition on harvesting the goliath grouper.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this issue.

Sincerely,

Tom Ingram President and CEO

cc: Governor Rick Scott

Nick Wiley, Executive Director, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Bob L. Harris, Esq., Tallahassee

DEMA Board of Directors

 

 

Many SCUBA divers support continued protection of Goliath Groupers in Florida. As an example, I share a letter from Carlos & Allison Estape, avid SCUBA divers from Islamorada, Florida Keys. They are my guest bloggers today. Carlos & Allison wrote to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and attended one of the Goliath Grouper workshops currently underway to gather public opinion on the proposal that, if approved, would allow killing this critically endangered species.

You can attend the workshops, write emails to the FWC Commissioners (commissioners@MyFWC.com), call (850-487-0554) or post your comments here 

Letter to FWC from Carlos & Allison Estape :

Commissioners, our names are Carlos & Allison Estape, we live in Islamorada, Florida and we have personally logged several thousand dives each throughout the Florida Keys since 1978.

First-hand experience

It is a rare sight indeed to nowadays come across a Goliath while SCUBA diving on our reefs. Data from the Reef Environmental & Educational Foundation  data that has been presented to the Commission in the past, show that Goliaths are reported on less than 6% of the nearly 26,000 diver surveys in the Florida Keys since 1993. Many of those reports are of the same fish or fishes found repeatedly on the same sites, Goliaths show great site fidelity as is well known.

Unsupported charges

In the minutes of previous Commission meetings, it has been suggested by anglers that the Goliath grouper is responsible for reduced human take of other game species and lobsters.

My first question to all for consideration is:

If Goliath groupers are to blame for great reductions in other species such as other groupers or lobster then why is it that within the Florida Keys Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs) large numbers of Black grouper and plentiful lobsters can be found? Which of the following two reasons is more plausible:

  • Is it because Goliaths haven’t figured out the Black grouper and lobsters are hiding in the SPAs or
  • Is it because people aren’t allowed to fish or harvest there?

It is my observation that the reason for reduced catches of some game fish and lobsters isn’t that there are too many Goliath groupers.

Human population considerations

Consider this, registered vessels in Monroe County in 1991, the year after the Goliath grouper moratorium on harvest started, totaled about 16,000. In 2016 there were more than 29,000. That’s just Monroe County. In Miami-Dade County there were more than 66,000 registered vessels.

These numbers don’t take into consideration all the vessels brought to Monroe from other parts of the State or outside the State. Between recreational and commercial harvesting we have depleted our game fish stocks so that studies (James A. Bohnsack et al) now show that all but the Yellowtail snapper are below sustainable reproductive rates.

Since 1990 the population of Monroe County has held steady at just under 80,000 people, meanwhile the population of Miami-Dade has increased from 2 million to 2.7 million. The combined population of Monroe/Dade/Broward/Palm Beach has gone from less than 4.1 million to 6.1 million, a 50% growth. The State of Florida has gone from 13.0 to 20.2 million over the same time span, a 55% increase.

Total grouper commercial catch has dropped from 800,000 pounds in 1985 to 200,000 pounds in 2016

What is more probable;

  • Goliaths have been eating more than half a million pounds of other groupers per year, or
  • people have been eating more than half a million more pounds of grouper per year?

Tourism dollars

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary published a socioeconomic factsheet showing that during the 2007-8 tourist season there were 739,000 visitors and residents that participated in diving and snorkeling operations, 85% MORE than the 400,000 that participated in fishing activities. The kicker is that divers spent $470 million in Monroe County that year versus the $274 million spent by fishermen. Divers and snorkelers spent 72% MORE than anglers!

Monroe County Tourist Development Council has spent millions of dollars promoting SCUBA diving along the entire Florida Keys chain including creating the Wreck Trek. These artificial reefs have been shown to have large economic benefits to the local economy, no doubt in large part because on them you can regularly see resident Goliath groupers.

If you allow harvesting of these fish the first to go will likely be those resident Goliaths even though they are in Federal and not State waters, the ones everyone knows are there, the ones people like me and the more than 700,000 other divers that visit the Keys every year hope to see.

While Goliaths show great site fidelity they also come inshore to aggregate. Just off of our island in fifteen feet of water there exists such an aggregation site. The site has 2 or 3 permanent resident Goliaths but that number grows to a dozen or more during August and September. It is highly likely that some of these individuals are the same ones we see offshore on the wrecks. Harvesting them here will deprive the diving community of seeing them elsewhere when they would have moved back to deeper water.

Goliath WStearns Rebreather Edited

Recreational and professional SCUBA divers are strong supporters of Goliath Grouper conservation, and they also support local Florida businesses when visiting to dive with the gentle giants. Photo Credit: Walt Stearns

Enforcement

FWC personnel are understaffed and overworked, I know several of them personally and have the utmost respect for what they do. In my opinion there simply isn’t enough of them to enforce fishing regulations throughout the hundreds of square miles of State waters. How effective will enforcement of the Goliath grouper harvesting be with such limited manpower? I don’t trust the honor system and once the animal has been killed a fine won’t bring it back.

After attending the Key Largo Workshop I’m left with the strong impression that the driving force for opening harvest has nothing to do with science and everything to do with pacifying a loud and vocal group of anglers that won’t be satisfied until all limits and restrictions are removed. This 100-fish per year limit is just throwing them a bone. Without robust science that concludes that a healthy and sustainable breeding stock exists, fishing for this species should remain closed.

If nothing else the harvesting needs to take into account different regions with different Goliath grouper populations, something I still think will be problematic to enforce. The Florida Keys is a very different animal than the Florida West coast and should be treated differently.

In summary:

WE NEED TO LEAVE AS–IS THE STAUS QUO MORATORIUM OF HARVESTING GOLIATH GROUPER TO PREVENT A FURTHER DEGRADATION AND IMBALANCE OF THE FLORIDA KEYS REEF COMMUNITIES until hard scientific evidence tells us otherwise.

OR, IF YOU PREFER, FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN A SOCIO-ECONOMIC ONE FOR THE STATE. GOLIATHS, IT SEEMS, ARE WORTH MORE ALIVE THAN DEAD.

Thank you for your consideration,

Carlos & Allison Estape

Islamorada, Florida

 

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