By Christopher Koenig and Felicia Coleman
When we started 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 any background in science or in wildlife management.
So when the commission opened discussions to have a limited fishery for goliath grouper, a species that has been protected since 1990 and remains vulnerable to extinction, we published a peer-reviewed essay summarizing all the data relevant to goliaths in Florida to help them out.
We sent the publication to the commissioners several times, once including an endorsement of nearly 100 respected scientists and conservationists. Neither the essay nor the extensive input from ecologists and conservationists were discussed at the meetings. Even the research conducted by FWC was dismissed out of hand. Was this due to a lack of interest, inability to interpret the results, or something worse?
The governors of this state 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 about whether 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 who are trained to do the specific job you want done. So why not include biological scientists, conservationists, and naturalists, on the commission?
Perhaps because the governors seek appointees who will help push forward their political objectives to eclipse the science when science and politics are at odds. In such cases, the science is ignored, as it was on March 3, 2022, when commissioners approved the fishery for juvenile goliath grouper.
The new rule to allow the killing of 200 juvenile goliaths a year passed 3-1 and in the absence of three commissioners, including FWC chairman Rodney Barreto.
At the very least, the commissioners should be held to the requirement that they use the best available science to inform their decisions. Even that would prove a boon to Florida’s wildlife and ecosystems. Without it, we will see only continued erosion of nature. One need only look to the problems associated with poor water management, eutrophication and red tide events and a continued decline in recreational and commercial fishing opportunities in South Florida.
This goes beyond protection for the goliath grouper, which is only one of many thousands of ecologically and economically important species affected by these uninformed policy decisions. What a disgrace.
We hope that the taxpayers of Florida who value Florida’s natural resources and who trust that intelligent decisions will be made to preserve, and/or restore our precious ecosystems and wildlife are not fooled by these commissioners.
We urge any taxpayer who is interested in the wellbeing of Florida’s natural environments and species to write to Gov. DeSantis (email: GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com; or post: Executive Office of Governor Ron DeSantis, 400 S Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32399) to express your disapproval of these kinds of appointments.
Christopher Koenig and his wife, Felicia Coleman, are both retired marine biologists who were research faculty at Florida State University. The wrote this for the Tallahassee Democrat, a member of the Invading Sea collaborative.