By the early 1990s, goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) had just about been fished out of Florida’s waters, as they have been almost everywhere else they occur on earth.
Fortunately, managers protected the species in the nick of time and the behemoth, long-lived fish have made a significant comeback.
Some scientist friends out of Florida State University’s Coleman and Koenig Laboratory have been studying their movements and they’ve identified the Jupiter area as the epicenter of their spawning activities on the Atlantic Coast.
I’ve had the fortune to dive with these experts many times, and it's hard to describe what it’s like to be 50 to 90 feet below the surface in clear, blue warm water swimming with 70 or so groupers that are almost all bigger than a man. It is one of the most remarkable dive experiences in the world, and that’s coming from a guy who has done a lot of diving in a lot of different places around the globe.
The scientists track the fish by inserting acoustic tags into them, and setting out a system of transmitters along the coast. The technology is basically the same as what’s used when you swipe your groceries at a cash register: When X grouper swims past one of the receivers, the device scans and identifies the fish. Pretty amazing!
The groupers are now on the move, headed toward the wrecks and reefs off Jupiter, Hobe Sound and Stuart where they aggregate to spawn, primarily in late July through early September. Throughout the summer, their numbers will increase in this area, so book your trip now.
You’re also just about guaranteed to see lots of turtles as well as sharks and other large predators. It’s the best “big animal” diving in the world.