Pattern of Recovery of the Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara Population in the Southeastern US
In the present study, we evaluate the past and current distribution and abundance of the atlantic goliath grouper, Epinephelus itajara (Lichtenstein, 1822), in coastal waters of the southeastern United States. The study is based on quantitative surveys conducted by us (n = 190) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Artificial Reef Program (n = 505), coupled with semi-quantitative data submitted by volunteer divers to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (n = 27,542) over the past 15+ yrs. The vast majority of the goliath grouper population is restricted to Florida waters. We found that the population of goliath grouper, after dramatic fishery-induced declines in the 1970s and 1980s, and eventual fishery closure in the 1990s, increased off southwest Florida in the mid-1990s, directly offshore of the high-quality mangrove nursery of the Ten Thousand Islands. It then expanded north and south, eventually increasing off Florida's central east coast. Tagged fish, regardless of life stage, showed strong site fidelity to home sites: juveniles (2963 tagged, 32.6% recaptured) to mangrove nursery sites and adults (2110 tagged, 7.6% recaptured) to offshore reefs. All long-distance movements appeared to be in response to approaching maturity, with juveniles emigrating from mangroves to take up residence on offshore reefs, to seasonal spawning activity, with adults moving from home sites to aggregation sites, or to apparent feeding sites in inlets. Understanding these patterns of population recovery and movement is fundamental to devising appropriate management policies.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: October 1, 2011
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