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Are Goliath Groupers Endangered

author
Bob Roberts
• Sunday, 03 January, 2021
• 8 min read

Another one you’d be wise to start considering is the Atlantic Goliath grouper, a huge saltwater fish that leisurely swims in reefs and mangroves between North Carolina and Brazil, and also those along the West African coast. Goliath groupers, which mostly feed on crustaceans and smaller fish, have been known to weigh in at over 700 pounds.

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(Source: mission-blue.org)

Contents

Atlantic Goliath Grouper, by Albert KOK via Creative CommonsDuring a recent visit to the Georgia Aquarium, a guide was sharing interesting facts about the “Tropical Diver” exhibit. This species is deemed critically endangered by the IUCN because of its reproductive issues (slow growth, late sexual maturity) and overfishing.

Groups like Florida State University’s Coleman & Keening Laboratory are promoting mangrove protection and trying to shift the public’s perception of the Goliath grouper as being nothing more than a big, lazy nuisance. It lives in shallow tropical waters at small depths that range from 16 to 164 feet (5 – 50 meters) among coral and artificial reefs.

The Atlantic Goliath grouper can grow until it reaches approximately 8.2 ft (2.5 m) long and it weighs about 790 lb (360 kg). Although the Atlantic Goliath grouper seems to be scary for its large size and even wide mouth, it is not extremely dangerous but it is courageous.

Being fearless and delicious at the same time is not good for this fish as these two factors are the main reasons behind making it highly sought after by fishermen and thus harvesting it in large numbers. Treating this fish in such a cruel way was the main reason behind making it endangered and this is why it was necessary to protect it and entirely ban harvesting it.

The Atlantic Goliath grouper is fearless which means that it is not scared easily and this is why it attacks different creatures in the sea even divers and the 11 feet lemon sharks. The Atlantic Goliath grouper eats most of what it can attack and this includes barracudas, octopus, fish, young sea turtles, crustaceans and even sharks.

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As a result, Goliath grouper (the continental U.S. distinct population segment) was removed from the species of concern list (71 FR 61022). Scientists from our Southeast Fisheries Science Center are working to understand the changes that have occurred in coral reef ecosystems following the loss of top predators, such as groupers.

From 1997-2005, our researchers collaborated with Florida State University's Institute for Fishery Resource Ecology (Dr. Chris Koenig and Dr. Felicia Coleman) to monitor the status and recovery of Goliath grouper. This Goliath grouper research program investigated juvenile and adult Jewish abundance, distribution and migration patterns; their age and growth; and their habitat utilization.

With the help of Don Maria we have tagged over 1,000 adult Jewish and have observed aggregations of Goliath grouper in both the Gulf of Mexico and more recently, the South Atlantic. Posters created by the Center of Marine Conservation help disseminate information about our project and its requirements, highlighting our tagging study and the morphology of Goliath grouper.

Given that these groupers were afforded protected status, researchers worked to utilize and develop novel non-lethal techniques to procure and analyze biological samples for life history information. Researchers have also determined that soft dorsal rays hold promise for aging older fish (Marie et al., 2008).

These casualties, resulting from red tide, gave our biologists a unique opportunity to collect a multitude of biological samples, without having to sacrifice healthy animals. From these decomposing carcasses, biologists were able to record length for use in an age/length relationship, and were able to extract monoliths and remove dorsal spines and rays for comparison of hard parts in age and growth analysis.

goliath groupers grouper florida endangered critically protect killing mission mag stearns walt
(Source: mission-blue.org)

Tissue samples were also removed and sent to the Florida Marine Research Institute, so they could evaluate the level of red tide toxin. The sampling trip gave these biologists an opportunity to educate the curious beach goers about red tide and Goliath grouper (a few of which had been misidentified as baby manatees).

Attempts to evaluate the data needed to assess the status of these depleted stocks and develop rebuilding plans present unique challenges. In 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries convened a benchmark Goliath grouper assessment for the continental U.S. population.

This project would not have been possible without ongoing collaboration with researchers from Florida State University, Everglades National Park, and the recreational fishing and SCUBA diving communities. The aggregation of large numbers of the fish in a small area during the spawning season attracted commercial and sports fishermen to the species.

With fishing no longer affecting its numbers, scientists searched for other potential threats to the Goliath grouper. Mosquito control measures and water drainage projects in the Everglades have both impacted heavily on the Florida mangrove swamps.

The loss of the waterways making up part of its nursery will not aid in the recovery of Goliath grouper numbers. A rapid increase in dinoflagellates of the species Karina breves is responsible for the marked color change of the sea.

grouper goliath florida endangered critically protect killing areas mission protected marine macwilliams wayne
(Source: mission-blue.org)

As well as changing the color of seawater, Karina breves produces a neurotoxin, called breve toxin, which is deadly to many fish. Scientists from National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) examine these fish to ascertain which species are threatened by red tide events.

Goliath grouper with silver sides, Jupiter, Florida Photo: © Marie Duran, Shark Team Speakers at the April 26th FCC meeting took various paths in favor of conserving goliathgroupers. Reef fish visual census (ROC) survey results were presented, effects of the high mercury content in Goliath grouper meat was discussed, impacts for loss of income to the diving community and Florida tourism should Goliath grouper diving ecotourism be shut down, as well as points regarding intrinsic value were all presented and discussed at the meeting.

FCC made conservation decisions regarding the Goliath grouper and in another recent meeting also agreed to further pursue working on draft regulations for shore-based shark fishing which has drawn increased public attention in recent years due to a number of issues including the mishandling of endangered shark species during catch and release fishing. Many government agencies and institutions will oversee this multiyear project which seeks to improve ocean water quality in the Southeast Florida region.

Local scientists are fighting the ongoing coral disease outbreaks by many innovative means including firebreaks and the administering of an antibiotic paste recently approved for use in our waters. The disease(s) have been encountered from St. Lucie Reef in the north all the way through the Coastal Southeast Florida Hope Spot area and as far south as the Middle Keys at the time of this writing.

Bleached coral with Christmas tree worms, Southeast Florida Photo: © Angela Smith, Shark Team Uneven after coral disease and bleaching impacts, a category 5 hurricane and brushes with conflicts of interest such as the Goliath grouper issue, the Coastal Southeast Florida Hope Spot remains strong in its ability to be resilient. Atlantic spade fish seen near a Goliath grouper aggregation area off Jupiter, Florida Photo: © Kirk Guilfoyle, Shark Team OneDrive by the conviction of scientists, conservationists, NGOs and an entire community working to protect this area, I am proud to see the progress of the Coastal Southeast Florida Hope Spot since our last update.

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A diver conducting a reef fish visual census (ROC) survey off the coast of Florida Photo: © Dr. Kirk Guilfoyle, Nova Southeastern University’s Halos College of Natural Sciences and OceanographyPlease follow this link to see a Goliath grouper PSA and video footage from the recent FCC meeting where the Goliath grouper was discussed. Photo courtesy Oaths large, solitary fish will defend its territory when threatened, with aggressive body language and a rumbling sound it makes with its swim bladder.

Its large, thick, elongated body can grow to over 8 feet long (and up to 800 pounds), from rounded snout and small eyes, to short, fan-like tail fin. Usually it is a mottled yellow-brown to gray with darker bard and spots, ideal for blending in to their rocky coral and muddy inshore habitat.

Other names are Baden (Portuguese), campus (Portuguese), hernia gig ante (Italian), China (Spanish), group (Portuguese), gran morgue (Iranian), guava (Spanish), data (Japanese), harbor (Norwegian), havsabborre (Swedish), Tamara Vienna (Polish), Judaism (Norwegian), hero guava (Spanish), hero (French), orphan (Turkish), raitameriahven (Finnish), Sophos (Greek), scarring (Italian), tip (Palikir), Atari (Icelandic), and zackenbarsch (German). A 450 pound Goliath grouper caught by Buddy Junks at the Big Indian Rocks Fishing Pier, Florida (1976).

Photo courtesy Kenneth Krzysztof historical importance to commercial fisheries, the Goliath grouper has also long been prized by recreational and sport fishers. Spear fishers find this fish easy to approach; hence in locations accessible to divers their numbers have declined.

Very large Goliath grouper have been observed to stalk divers and even conduct unsuccessful ambushes of the same. The large size, slow growth, low reproductive rate, and spawning behavior have made the Goliath grouper especially susceptible to overfishing.

grouper goliath endangered
(Source: sciencephoto.com)

The Goliath grouper is totally protected from harvest and is recognized as a “Critically Endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Furthermore, the IUCN concludes that the species has been “observed, estimated, inferred or suspected” of a reduction of at least 80% over the last 10 years or three generations.

Historical exploitation of Goliath grouper annual spawning aggregation sites greatly reduced the number of reproductive adults. Occurring in shallow, inshore waters to depths of 150 feet (46 m), the Goliath grouper prefers areas of rock, coral, and mud bottoms.

It is territorial near areas of refuge such as caves, wrecks, and ledges, displaying an open mouth and quivering body to intruders. Additional warning may be delivered in the form of the Goliath grouper’s ability to produce a distinctly audible rumbling sound generated by the muscular contraction of the swim bladder.

Photo courtesy NOAA Distinctive Features Goliath grouper are the largest members of the sea bass family in the Atlantic Ocean. Coloration This fish is generally brownish yellow, gray, or olive with small dark spots on head, body, and fins.

The presence of a number of short weakly developed canine teeth is useful in distinguishing this species from other North Atlantic groupers. However, this specimen was sampled from a population of individuals depressed by fishing pressure and it is projected that Goliath grouper may live much longer, perhaps as much as 50 years.

grouper goliath diver scuba endangered epinephelus alamy protected fl itajara
(Source: www.alamy.com)

Photo © Don Maria Food Habits Goliath grouper feed largely on crustaceans (in particular spiny lobsters, shrimps and crabs), fishes (including stingrays and parrot fishes), octopus, and young sea turtles. However, the significance of this finding is of diminished value when one considers that transitional individuals are known to be rare amongst confirmed species of protogynous hermaphrodites, such as the red grouper (Epimetheus Mario) and gag (Mycteroperca microbes).

Photo courtesy National Marine Fisheries Service In support of the notion that the species is a protogynous hermaphrodite is the fact that the largest goliathgroupers are invariably male. Spawning occurs during the summer months of July, August, and September throughout the Goliath grouper’s range and is strongly influenced by the lunar cycle. Ship wrecks, rock ledges, and isolated patch reefs are preferred spawning habitat.

In the 1980s these aggregations reached a low of less than 10 individuals per site as fishing pressure greatly impacted this species. Since receiving legislative protection the spawning aggregations of Goliath grouper have risen to 20-40 individuals per location.

These pelagic larvae transform into benthic juveniles at lengths of one inch (2.5 cm), around 25 or 26 days after hatching. In an 1884 work, “The fishes of the Florida Keys,” David Starr Jordan proposed the inclusion of the Goliath grouper in Epimetheus (Bloch 1793) and this combination remains in use today.

Of incidental note is the fact that various authors have incorrectly spelled the specific epithet “Tamara” as “tiara.” The genus name comes from the Greek epinephelos translated as cloudy. A number of authors treat the name Promiscuous Tamara as valid taxonomy for the Goliath grouper.

grouper florida species goliath epinephelus itajara keys endangered alamy
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Sources
1 www.wlf.louisiana.gov - https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/fishing/saltwater-seasons-limits
2 www.wlf.louisiana.gov - https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/index.cfm
3 www.news4jax.com - https://www.news4jax.com/weather/2020/12/22/several-grouper-closures-to-start-off-2021/
4 www.wlf.louisiana.gov - https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/news/lwf-commission-sets-2020-recreational-red-snapper-season
5 www.louisianasportsman.com - https://www.louisianasportsman.com/fishing/offshore-fishing/black-grouper-weighs-almost-double-the-previous-state-record/
6 www.wlf.louisiana.gov - https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/news/category/18
7 www.wlf.louisiana.gov - https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/index.cfm
8 myfwc.com - https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/groupers/
9 www.fisheries.noaa.gov - https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/fishing-regulations-and-seasonal-closures-gulf-mexico
10 www.fishanywhere.com - https://www.fishanywhere.com/blog/grouper-season-2020-in-florida/