Goliath grouper photo leads to dialogue about state law
A photo posted in TampaBay.com's Community Photo Gallery and highlighted here in Let's Talk has offered a teachable moment for fishermen.
Four friends, all college students, were out fishing last weekend off Honeymoon Island and caught a goliath grouper. Dale Howes, the father of one of the boys, shared his photo of the catch with TampaBay.com, noting that the fish was successfully released.
Soon after the photo was published on Let's Talk, readers began posting comments regarding state and federal law classifying goliath grouper as a protected species and prohibiting it from being removed from the water. They were critical of the four friends who held the grouper and of TampaBay.com for publishing it.
One reader, Tim, posted a link to the state regulations and wrote: "It is important to observe these rules to protect our fish. I recently learned this rule too and it is wise to share the rules with the younger folks so their kids can enjoy fishing."
Others were more critical: "It's very bad taste to take a picture with a protected species. You should of removed the hook with the fish in the water, good chance that fish didn't survive," Dave wrote.
Ali Hazime, one of the four fishermen, then joined the discussion. He said he and his friends were "completely aware" of the Fish and Wildlife Commission rules, and he offered a quote from the department's Web site.
"Temporary possession of a fish for the purpose of measuring it to determine compliance with the minimum size requirements shall not constitute harvesting such fish, provided that it is measured immediately after taking, and immediately returned to the water free, alive and unharmed if undersized."
Hazime wrote that he and his friends had the fish out of the water for "a split second of time and released it, and released it correctly. He strongly swam away."
Brendan Park, an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Tampa office, e-mailed me to say that even photographing a goliath grouper is considered illegal. Taking a goliath grouper out of the water does internal damage due to the fact that the fish is too large to support its weight out of the water, he wrote.
"Since goliath groupers are prohibited there is no reason to measure the fish, except for scientific purposes," Park said. "Because of this, the release of the fish must be immediate."
How did the photographer react to all this? Howes wrote in an e-mail: "I was unaware of those particular rules, but the blog has inadvertantly educated many in the process, I'm sure."