Well the good news is that my colleagues and I were able to complete a third year of surveys for the Great Goliath Grouper Count (GGGC). The bad news is the weather wasn’t cooperative, and we weren’t able to survey as many sites as in the past two years. In addition, the number of grouper we counted was much lower than in past years, which could be in part to the poor visibility we had to deal with this year.
The GGGC is a collaborative outreach project between Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to provide a regional “snapshot “ of goliath grouper presence and minimum abundance on artificial reefs throughout the region in a relatively short time frame (ideally one week). The concept came from the National Christmas Bird Count done through the Audubon Society. Volunteers collect fundamental fisheries information that help researchers characterize the size structure of goliath grouper within the study area and compare abundance and size distribution to habitat features, depth and region. Besides Collier County, surveys are conducted from Lee through Pinellas Counties in Southwest Florida, and off Taylor and Bay Counties in the Big Bend and Panhandle region. Beginning in 2011, we also had survey teams off the east coast of Florida near Palm Beach County. I am always quick to point out that this project is by no means a substitute for a formal stock assessment, as it is not comprehensive enough in scope, but it certainly can help provide managers and researchers with additional information they can use when assessing the health of the recovering goliath grouper population in Florida.
Highlights of this year’s GGGC in Collier County
· Nine divers and two boats only surveyed seven of the twelve designated Collier sites due to rough weather conditions
· Because of the weather the surveys were spread out over a week’s time period instead of the normal two day time frame.
· The depths of the sites surveyed ranged from 30 to 80 feet
· Four of the sites sampled were ship wrecks, two were radio towers, and one was a rubble pile
· The number of goliath grouper present at each site ranged from one to twelve.
· A minimum of 49 goliath grouper were counted at the seven sites (Avg 7). As a comparison, last year we counted a minimum of 128 grouper on 10 sites (Avg 12.8).
· Of the 49 grouper that were counted, one was estimated to be less than three feet, 28 were estimated to be between three and five feet, and 20 were estimated to be greater than five feet.