When we began presenting the results of our research on goliath grouper ecology to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission over a decade ago, we found that none of the commissioners had a background in science or in wildlife management.
So when the commission opened discussions to have a fishery limited to goliath grouper, a species that has been protected since 1990 and remains vulnerable to extinction, we published a peer-reviewed essay summarizing all relevant data on goliaths in Florida (https://marinelab.fsu.edu/media/3878/2020_koenig_et-al_goliathgroupe-fisheries_distrib.pdf) to help them.
We sent the publication to the commissioners several times, including once with the endorsement of nearly 100 respected scientists and conservationists. Neither the trial nor the extensive input from ecologists and conservationists was discussed at the meetings. Even research conducted by FWC was dismissed out of hand. Was it due to a lack of interest, an inability to interpret the results, or something worse?
This state’s governors have for many years chosen only contractors, developers, lawyers and, of course, their donors to make critical decisions about the conservation and management of Florida’s natural resources.
Let’s think if that makes sense. Would you hire an electrician to do your plumbing or a plumber to build your house? Of course not, because you need and want people trained to do the specific job you want to do. So why not include biologists, conservationists and naturalists on the commission?
Perhaps because governors are looking for appointees who will help advance their political goals to eclipse science when science and politics are at odds. In such cases, science is ignored, as was the case on March 3, 2022, when the commissioners approved the fishery for juvenile goliath grouper.
The new rule allowing the killing of 200 juvenile goliaths a year was passed 3 to 1 and in the absence of three commissioners, including FWC President Rodney Barreto.
At the very least, commissioners should be required to use the best available scientific data to inform their decisions. Even that would be a boon to Florida’s wildlife and ecosystems. Without it, we will only see a continuous erosion of nature. Just look at the problems associated with poor water management, eutrophication and red tides, and the continuing decline in recreational and commercial fishing opportunities in South Florida.
This goes beyond protecting the goliath grouper, which is just one of thousands of ecologically and economically important species affected by these ill-informed policy decisions. What a disgrace.
We hope Florida taxpayers who appreciate Florida’s natural resources and who believe that smart decisions will be made to preserve and/or restore our precious ecosystems and wildlife will not be fooled by these commissioners.
We urge any taxpayers interested in the well-being of Florida’s natural environments and species to write to Governor DeSantis (email: [email protected]; or mail: Executive Office of Governor Ron DeSantis, 400 S Monroe St . , Tallahassee, FL 32399) to express your disapproval of such meetings.
Christopher Koenig and his wife, Felicia Coleman, are both retired marine biologists who served as research professors at Florida State University.
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