With winds of over 185 miles per hour, Hurricane Dorian struck Elbow Cay, just east of Great Abaco Island’s Marsh Harbor, on September 1, 2019. Dorian is considered to be the worst natural disaster in the county’s recorded history and one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record. (NOAA)
Today I share a special interest story…
From April 11-14, 2021, my husband, Ed Lippisch, and Dr Daniel Velinsky, continued a tradition. They traveled to Marsh Harbor in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, to go bonefishing with local guide and friend, Justin Sands.
I asked Ed and Dan if I could share what they saw and experienced, especially because I know that the Army Corps was preparing for this hurricane to stall not over the Bahamas, but over Lake Okeechobee…
Thank you Ed and Dan for sharing your impressions ~JTL
-Mangroves of the Marls around Marsh Harbor have not recovered from Category 5 Hurricane Dorian. Photo Dan Velinsky, April 12, 2021.-Pine forests around Marsh Harbor have also not recovered due to Hurricane Dorian. Dorian struck on September 1, 2019. These photos were taken 18 months later. Photo Dan Velinsky, April 12, 2021.
BY DAN VELINSKY
Ed and I flew to Marsh Harbor, Abaco, Bahamas last Monday to bone fish. It had been almost 2 years since our last visit due to Hurricane Dorian and Covid-19 issues. We had been in constant contact with our friend and multi generational Bahamian bonefish guide, Justin Sands. Ed had flown aid missions bringing water and necessary supplies directly after DorianWe had received photos from our friends and the news media. Nothing prepared us for the reality that slapped us in the face when we landed and ventured into the Marls to fish.
The ecological disaster was beyond belief. It has been 18 months since the storm. On land, there are no pine trees that are alive. On the water, there are no mangroves alive. I have been in florida since the 60s, thru hurricane Donna, Andrew, Francis, Jean and the rest. I have seen Miami, Stuart and the Bahamas after all the storms. Nothing prepared me for this. In areas of the direct path, nothing alive after almost 2 years. It will be generations for the pines to come back. Without a planting program, they may not. Im sure it will effect the small animals, but also the weather patterns. No greenery to hold the cool air, to clense the air.
On the water, no mangroves to act as nursery for all the fish, crabs, turtles and other sea life. As the roots decompose the balance to the ecosystem will change. I expected to see new growth after this amount of time, but it was minimal at best, and none in many areas. There is a program there, spearheaded by the fishing guides to plant mangrove shoots, which should help, but it will only be a drop in the bucket. It is horrible.
The devastation to the land and residents is also beyond description. It looks like a war zone after heavy bombing. We were so focused on finally getting to bone fish, and getting to the Bahamas and back with the Covid restrictions, I really didn’t think about the damage. What a reality check it has been.
Yes, we had fun with our friend Justin, caught over 25 fish, learned to cast into 20 mph wind. But my takeaway from this trip is the picture of the devastation in my mind. We were extremely lucky here in Stuart. The Bahamians were not. ~Dan Velinsky, April 17, 2021.
MARSH HARBOR, April 11, 2021. Photos, Ed Lippisch.AREA EAST OF MARSH HARBOR, April 12, 2021. -A beautiful bonefish. Their mangrove habitat was impacted.-Guide, Justin Sands and Ed.-Author of this blog post, Dan Velinsky.April 13, 2021. “The Marls” west of Marsh Harbor where the bonefish reside.April 14, 2021. Takeoff from Marsh Harbor heading west homebound. “Years past, these were healthy, mangrove islands, now destroyed.” Ed Lippisch.
My husband Ed, and friend, Dan Velinsky, went fishing yesterday (2-9-21) at “Sailfish Flats” between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point. It was indeed a spectacular day, and Ed returned home smiling even though they didn’t catch any fish. “It was beautiful.” He exclaimed. “But no seagrass, no fish, except hiding by the islands…” Then he turned with wide smile: “We even saw seven dolphins and two turtles! I taped them!”
The whole time Ed was speaking, I couldn’t help it…
I saw a number flashing in my head: 15.41, the level of Lake Okeechobee on February 9, 2021. This number is high from a St Lucie point of view for this time of year. In June will come rainy season….
As ACOE’s Col. Kelly reported last week, the lake is going dow, but: “Today, the lake stage is at 15.42 feet, which is still 2.5 feet higher than it was one year ago, and 2.7 feet higher than it was two years ago.”
I share Ed photos “on a perfect day,” to document- knowing – we must keep an eye on Lake Okeechobee and the decisions of Army Corp of Engineers .
The population increase of the Goliath Grouper is one of those rare “feel-good” conservation success stories. With the help of a 1990 law of protection, the species has come back from being historically over-hunted.
I was recently contacted by advocate goliath grouper protectionist, Ms. Katie Carlsson, who spurned my interest in the debate to “reopen hunting on the species.” I also knew I could share my mother’s plethora of historic St Lucie River “Jew Fish” photos labeled such during the non-politically correct era that was part of my childhood and before. In today’s blog post the original terminology is used in the photographs as documented.
Now for today’s “Goliath Grouper!”
I wanted to speak up for Katie’s cause, questioning the reopening of the hunt. She has forward much information on FWC meeting dates, etc. Thank you Katie.
Before presenting you with many links to explore and opinions to read, I will say, that according to the Snook Foundation, “vast technological improvements in spear guns and diving equipment in the 1960s and 1970s made no wreck, cave or hole safe for Goliath grouper to hide. They have few natural predators and little fear of divers.They are easy prey.”
Of course anglers have the right to argue that the grouper in some areas, like South Florida, have been perhaps “too successful” and believe hunting should be reopened.
My question is if the giant fish will basically look you in the eye and let you kill it, or if there is a question as to the efficacy of the conservation program, why do it? There are so many other fish in the sea.
These are the locations and dates for future hearings:
Oct. 9: Jacksonville, Pablo Creek Regional Library, 13295 Beach Blvd.
Oct. 10: Titusville, American Police Hall of Fame & Museum, 6350 Horizon Drive.
Oct. 11: Stuart, Flagler Place, 201 SW Flagler Ave.
Oct. 12: Davie, Old Davie School Historical Museum, 6650 Griffin Road.
Oct. 16: Pinellas Park, Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure, 9501 U.S. Highway 19 N.
Oct. 17: Port Charlotte, The Cultural Center of Charlotte County, 2280 Aaron St.
Oct. 18: Naples, Collier County Public Library – South Regional, 8065 Lely Cultural Parkway
Oct. 25: Tallahassee, FWC Bryant Building, Room 272, 600 S. Meridian St. (6-9 p.m. ET)
In the earlier part of the last century, Atlantic goliath groupers were abundant from Florida to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. If you have been lucky enough to be in the water with these creatures, then you appreciate their unflappable personality and awe-inspiring size, which reaches up to 8 feet and 1,000 pounds. The goliath grouper has no natural predators besides large sharks and humans. We are writing with regards to the latter.
Goliath groupers reached commercial extinction in the late 1980s. For this reason, in 1990 a federal and state ban on killing them was implemented for U.S. federal waters and state waters of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, followed by a 1993 ban in the U.S. Caribbean. Twenty-seven years of protection have led to a population increase, although not a recovery to pre-exploitation levels, in the state of Florida alone. Spawning aggregations are forming again off the east coast of Florida. It’s the only place in the world where goliath groupers are now reliably found in significant numbers, as juveniles in mangroves, and as adults in reefs, solitary or forming spawning aggregations. People come from all over the nation and the world to see the goliath grouper spawning aggregations in the late summer, bringing big dollars that boost local economies.
“Diving in the Palm Beaches back in the late 1980s, to see a goliath grouper was the holy grail. Many of us dove year after year, and saw perhaps one, maybe none,” said Deb Castellana of Mission Blue. “To witness the resurgence of the species since protections were enacted has been heartening, a real story of hope.”
Yet, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is currently considering allowing the limited take of goliath groupers in state waters. The proposal would allow the killing of 100 goliath groupers per year for 4 years, for a total of 400 goliath groupers. The sizes targeted are breeding individuals. If implemented, the kill will exterminate most of Florida’s breeding population of goliath groupers, destroying 27 years of conservation management effort. This “limited take” is not supported by scientific evidence. Critics of the goliath grouper say the species is overeating and responsible for declining fish and lobster stocks. Yet, actual scientific data from researchers like Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. show that overfishing, not the goliath groupers, is the reason for declining fish and lobster stocks.
Some say that a “sustainable” take of goliath groupers is possible, but many scientists agree that the current population would not last more than one, or perhaps two years after opening the fishery. And groupers have no nutritional value for humans since they contain levels of mercury that are unsafe for human consumption according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Health.
“I repeatedly asked what scientific evidence the FWC has to support killing the goliath groupers, because all scientific research published to date does not support a fishery for this species and shows the species is highly conservation dependent and highly vulnerable to overfishing,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “Many don’t realize that goliath groupers actually eat predators of juvenile lobsters, allowing more lobsters to grow to legal size and making more lobsters available to fishers.”
Don DeMaria, a local professional diver, adds, “the annual goliath grouper spawning aggregations that occur off the coast of South Florida are spectacular natural events on a world scale. Efforts by the FWC, and others, to reopen a take of this fish are sure to disrupt, and eventually eliminate this natural wonder.”
If a hunting season is opened on the goliath grouper, the FWC has floated the idea of charging $300 per fish killed. Yet, recreational divers pay around $100 for one goliath grouper sighting. Think of that: a single goliath grouper in the water is supporting local business to the tune of $36,500 per year or more than a million dollars over its lifetime. But one spawning aggregation alone, made by several goliath groupers, generates about half a million dollars a year for one dive business. Financially speaking, that’s a much better investment than collecting a one-time payment of $300 per dead fish.
“Killing goliath groupers will also kill growing economic benefits derived from divers who revel in the opportunity to be in the presence of these iconic animals who are often as curious about us.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle
A Final Message from Katie:
We are aware that the FWC is gathering public input on the possibility of a goliath grouper killing season in Florida. As such, we have called for our supporters to attend one of the many workshops held in the state in August and October, as well as to submit a public comment on FWC’s website. We will also gathering signatures to a petition, which will be delivered to the FWC in anticipation of the goliath grouper decision coming down later this year.
“Although the species has not recovered to pre-exploitation levels, enough goliath groupers are showing up at a few spawning aggregation sites that their presence, and the SCUBA divers that come to visit them, bring a much-needed lifesaver to small businesses in Florida, between late August and early October, just when transition between the summer and winter seasons will leave these businesses in the doldrums,” said Dr. Frias-Torres. “A live goliath grouper is more valuable than a dead one. And living goliaths will keep forming spawning aggregations and contributing to the Florida economy for as long as they live.”
We strongly urge the Commissioners of FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.
HELP US: Ask the FWC to maintain protections for goliath groupers!
You don’t have to live in Florida to help. Please take a moment to tell the FWC to continue protections for the goliaths at this link. Feel free to use the language below as your comment.
“I am disappointed to learn the FWC is considering allowing the taking of goliath groupers. Many countries look up to the United States as a leader in so many fields, including conservation, and here we are about to permit fishermen to take goliaths—a species depleted throughout its range, except Florida—and nursed back to healthy numbers over the course of 27 years of Federal and state protection. We strongly urge you to maintain protections for goliath groupers in Florida and to deny any requests for opening the fishery. A policy such as this would represent the best interests of the wildlife and humans in Florida, as well as rest on conclusions drawn from the best available science.”
I know this is a lot. This is a pretty interesting problem from science, conservation, and politics. The voting in the hearings is by clicker and is shown on the screen so have everyone who goes take a picture and post it. People that are under eighteen can attend and vote. They can also comment online at the FFW link.
Happy 17th Birthday to Chase! If you don’t already know him, Chase is one of Stuart’s leading sports fishermen, in any age category. This photo is of a recent catch of my favorite fish, the beautiful and unforgettable, “Silver King Tarpon.”
Since Chase was thirteen years old, when we ran into each other, he would share photos of his fishing expeditions. I always stood there, mouth wide open…”Are you kidding me?” I would ask. He would just smile with his wide, blue eyes saying it all:” THIS IS NO FISH STORY…
In 2015, Chase and I, together with many others tried to save a pigmy whale that had beached at Stuart. Chase loves the outdoors and has respect for all of the water’s creatures.
Yesterday, in Jensen, I ran into Chase celebrating his 17th birthday with family and friends.
Perhaps it is his mother’s wonderful name, “Cobia,” that inspires her son! 🙂
If you are a reader of my blog you know, the ancient, acrobatic, and historic tarpon is my favorite fish as it was the original sports fish of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, until its numbers were destroyed by canals, C-44, C-23, C-25 and C-25. Had these canals not been allowed to decimate our river, Tarpon would still be King, not the famous off-shore Sailfish….
Thank you Chase for sharing and inspiring us all! We know you have a great future ahead of you!!!! I can’t wait ’til you have your own show!!!!!!