Scuba divers come from around the world to see goliath grouper that gather off the coast of the Palm Beaches from late August through September every year.(Photo: Mike Scott Photography)

Florida game regulators may open up a limited fishing season for the goliath grouper.

The lumbering mammoth predators, which can grow to the size of small cars, were nearly fished to extinction but have been steadily rebounding in South Florida since 1990, when federal and state protections were put in place to prevent harvesting. On Thursday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will meet to consider starting a pilot fishing season.

Under the proposal, fishermen would apply through a lottery to purchase a harvesting tag similar to the state’s tarpon tag program. The harvest would be limited to 100 goliath grouper per year.

The proposed season has been fiercely opposed by many conservationists and scuba divers while generally supported by anglers.

More: Allow fishing for goliath grouper again, anglers urge FWC in East Naples survey

More: Goliath grouper on the menu? FWC considers opening up a limited season for the first time in nearly 30 years

Southwest Florida charter boat captains, such as Bill D’Antuono, have mixed feelings.


Katie Laakkonen shared this underwater video of a goliath grouper at the Naples 2 artificial reef site that is 17 miles offshore. (Archive video from July 19, 2015)

On one hand the giants are big draws for sightseers and divers, D’Antuono said. On the other, a goliath season could eventually bring in fishermen from across the country. And, if well-regulated, thinning their numbers could help strengthen other fisheries such as lobster, crab and smaller fish, he said.

“They’re protected for a reason,” D’Antuono said. “But they are an apex

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