By CBSMiami.com Team

PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) — A plan to lift a three-decades old ban on the catching and killing of goliath grouper in Florida is moving forward by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Wednesday, over the objections of dive operators, the FWC voted to move forward with a draft rule allowing up to 200 fishing permits a year for juvenile goliath grouper, with the first harvest expected in 2023.

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The new draft would allow the following:

  • Goliath grouper season would last three months, March through May.
  • A permit for one fish per person would be issued via a lottery system.
  • Only 200 permits will be issued, and only goliaths between 20 and 36 inches can be kept.
  • The policy would not apply to Palm Beach County, the Atlantic Coast of the Keys and Dry Tortugas National Park.
  • There are also post-harvest requirements.

Commissioner Robert Spottswood said the “limited” harvest should help the agency better determine the overall stock of the fish in the next three to five years.

“This stock is rebuilding,” Spottswood said. “We’re hearing that it can easily sustain this very small harvest of fish. We’re going to learn something from it. And more importantly, we’re going to give some access that we can give safely and sustainably back to the stakeholders that own the resource. And I believe it’s time we do so.”

The staff will bring the issue back with changes to a future meeting at an undisclosed time. If those are approved, feedback and data will be gathered and a final public hearing will be held in March of 2022.

To read the original proposed rule in full, click here. To see the meeting presentation, click here.

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Currently, if anglers catch a goliath grouper, they have to release it.

Never listed as endangered, goliath grouper were removed from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s species of special concern list in 2006 and had their listing improved from “critically endangered” to “vulnerable” in 2018 by the independent International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Goliath grouper, which can grow to 800 pounds and more than 8 feet in length, had been harvested in state waters since the late 1800s. The largest goliath grouper caught in Florida waters was a 680-pound fish caught off Fernandina Beach in 1961.

Aside from overfishing, the species is susceptible to dying because of such factors as cold temperatures and red tide blooms.

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CBSMiami.com Team