By the light of the full moon, huge numbers of the grouper cluster together to mate in mass spawning. The Nassau grouper is fished both commercially and for sport; it is less shy than other groupers, and is readily approached by scuba divers.
However, its numbers have been sharply reduced by overfishing in recent years, and it is a slow breeder. Furthermore, its historic spawning areas are easily targeted for fishing, which tends to remove the reproductively active members of the group.
The species is therefore highly vulnerable to overexploitation, and is recognized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The governments of the United States, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas have banned or instituted closed fishing seasons for the Nassau grouper in recent years.
It has been identified as one of only two viable sites remaining for the species, of 9 originally known locations. However, the Nassaugrouper's spawning region is not included in this marine protected area (MPA).
Many conservation methods have been put in place to help the grouper, including closed seasons, when fishing is not allowed. Some areas are protected, a complete ban on fishing the grouper in US waters has been instituted.
However, analysis of declines in both populations and the size spawning aggregations has led to the species being uplifted to critically endangered by the IUCN Red List in 2018. The Nassau grouper has been depicted on postage stamps of Cuba (1965, 1975), the Bahamas (1971 5-cent), and Antigua and Barbuda (1987 40-c).
The Nassau grouper was placed on the World Conservation Union's realist of threatened species in 1996, and it was determined to be endangered because its population has declined by 60% in the past 30 years. Over a third of spawning aggregations have been estimated to have disappeared, and the grouper is considered to be commercially extinct in some areas.
The current population is estimated to be more than 10,000 mature individuals, but is thought to be decreasing. ^ Shcherbina, Andrey; Glen G. Gawarkiewicz; Christopher A. Liner; Simon R. Horror (Sep 2008).
“Mapping bathymetric and hydrographic features of Glover's Reef, Belize, with a REMUS autonomous underwater vehicle” (PDF). These large fish are associated with hard structure such as reefs (both natural and artificial), rocks, and ledges.
It was easy for commercial and recreational fisherman to catch Nassau grouper and it soon became scarce. Because their range exceeds national borders, the best approach to their conservation is regional closed seasons.
Sampling of fish landed in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico during the 1970s and 1980s indicates that Nassau grouper were commonly caught, mostly from spawning aggregation sites. Currently, Nassau grouper are occasionally reported during underwater reef surveys at low density.
Coloration varies, but adult fish are generally light beige, with five dark brown vertical bars, a large black saddle blotch on top of the base of the tail, and a row of black spots below and behind each eye. A dark band that forms a tuning-fork pattern on top of the head, beginning at the front of the upper jaw, extending through each eye, and then curving to meet its corresponding band in front of the dorsal fin.
They can be distinguished from other groupers by the vertical bars and dark saddle coloring along the dorsal part of the area preceding the tail. Color pattern can change within minutes from almost white too bicolored to uniformly dark brown, according to the behavioral state of the fish.
They take advantage of lower light levels at dawn and dusk, combined with the higher number of prey during changeover between diurnal and nocturnal fishes. Nassau grouper are found in tropical and subtropical waters of the western North Atlantic.
This includes Bermuda, Florida, Bahamas, the Yucatán Peninsula, and throughout the Caribbean to southern Brazil. There has been one verified report of Nassau grouper in the Gulf of Mexico at Flower Gardens Bank.
The Nassau grouper is considered a reef fish, but it transitions as it grows through a series of shifts in both habitat and diet. As juveniles, they are found in nearshore shallow waters in macro algal and seagrass habitats.
The main influences on where they live are not known, though water clarity, habitat, and bent hos (the community of organisms in the seabed) seem to be important. Nassau grouper tend to spend a lot of time in one spot, often on a high-relief coral reefs or rocks in clear water.
Nassau grouper pass through a juvenile bisexual phase, then mature directly as males or females. While adult Nassau groupers can change sex after hormone injection, natural sex-change has not been confirmed.
After 1 to 2 months of floating with the ocean currents, the larvae settle in nearshore shallow waters in macro algal and seagrass habitats. Adults are relatively solitary, living in areas that (patchily) overlap other groupers’ home ranges.
In some countries with protective regulations, there are too few enforcement officers to cover a large geographic area with many landing locations. Meanwhile, fish caught during closed season are held and later marketed as legal capture.
“Adult gag grouper live in nearshore waters from coastal North Carolina south to Brazil and as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller gag are a lot of lighter in coloring, and have numerous dark brown, or charcoal, kiss-like marks along their sides.
“Adult gag grouper, live over on top of low- and high-profile hard bottom such as reefs or shipwrecks in waters between 60-250 feet deep,” said McLean Seward, fisheries biologist with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. “Young gag grouper will live in oyster reefs, estuaries and seagrass beds from Massachusetts to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The coloration of red grouper helps to distinguish this species from gag with its head and body being dark reddish brown, shading pink or reddish or even pale pink along the lower part of its body,” Nash said. “In North Carolina, gag will typically spawn in February and have clear larvae, which then make their way into estuaries.
As water temperatures start to go down in the fall, juvenile gag will migrate from estuaries to offshore hard bottom habitat and larger members of their species,” said Seward. Seward noted that all grouper are considered protogynous intersex, “that is they start their lives as females, and a part of the population will morph, or make the change, to males as they get older.
Females start to reach sexual maturity when they are about 24 inches in total length and about 3 years old. They are voracious predators, and will feed on whatever they can capture including scad, snapper, grunt, sardines, crabs, porgies, shrimp and squid, said Seward.
Red grouper sitting on sand habitat 45 degrees to camera full body view mouth open. In addition to their color, red grouper can be distinguished from gag by the sloped, straight line of their spiny dorsal fin.
“The red grouper is also a protogynous intersex and females are sexually mature by the time they reach 4 years old,” Seward said. Females typically will let go an average of 1.5 million pelagic eggs that stay at the surface for between 30-40 days before finally settling down to the bottom.
“ Red grouper may live to be as old as 25 years of age, with older specimens reaching a size of 32.5 inches and up to 25 pounds. They will feed on lobster, shrimp, octopus, crabs and fish that are found close to their preferred reef habitat,” Seward said.
Bottom fishing is the best way to catch gag grouper, using live bait, including squid and cigar minnows. Use a depth finder to find deep-water rock ledges, artificial reefs and shipwrecks, a gag grouper ’s favorite hiding place.
Recreational and commercial fishermen are required to use hooking tools when fishing for the snapper grouper species. “This prohibition does not apply to fish harvested, landed and sold before the annual catch limit is reached and held in cold storage by a dealer,” said North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries Executive Assistant to Councils Steve Poland, who is also a representative with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
Charter and head boat and commercial snapper grouper vessels must have National Marine Fisheries Service-approved sea turtle release gear and adhere to small tooth saw fish release protocol, Poland added. While populations of gag grouper have remained healthy, a 10-year effort to rebuild the red grouper stock has failed, leading to new, stricter rules and regulations taking effect this year.
Therefore, on Sept. 27, 2017, NFS sent a letter to the council stating that the South Atlantic red grouper stock was not making adequate progress toward rebuilding. So, NFS took steps in 2018 to immediately end overfishing of red grouper by reducing the total commercial and recreational annual catch limits, based on the acceptable biological catch recommendation from the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee.
“For red grouper, this final rule extends the closure season formerly from January to April, to January through May of each year for the next ten years for the commercial and recreational portions off North and South Carolina, and establishes a commercial trip limit,” said Poland. This final rule establishes a commercial trip limit for red grouper harvested in the South Atlantic EEA of 200 pounds, gutted weight.
The trip limit is expected to help rebuild the red grouper stock by discouraging directed commercial fishing for the species, although it is not likely to substantially reduce the current level of commercial harvest of red grouper, according to the National Register. “The council selected a commercial trip limit that in combination with extending the spawning season cloture for red grouper off North Carolina and South Carolina would help keep down harvest numbers to help rebuild the stock,” Poland said.
You can help pay some cost by sponsoring a day on CRO for as little as $100 or by donating any amount you're comfortable with. The NassauGrouper (Epimetheus stratus) is a large fish that inhabits our reefs and is especially common in the waters of Saga.
As is typical of groupers, it has a robust, elongated body, rounded fins and big lips. The Nassau grouper can be identified by three distinct features: 1) its body is covered in five olive-brown vertical bars, and a diagonal bar goes from its snout, across its eye and to the start of its dorsal fin; 2) the top of its head has a tuning-fork shaped marking; and 3) the base of its tail has a large black saddle spot.
The fact that the Dutch Caribbean has a healthy population of NassauGrouper is an attestation to the health of our reefs and the success of our marine parks. One of the biggest threats to this fish species is habitat loss; Nassau groupers inhabit shallow to mid-range coral reefs (typically between 6 and 30 meters) and rocky areas where they can hide in crevices; juveniles are commonly found in seagrass beds.
Both coral reefs and seagrass beds have suffered much degradation in parts of the Caribbean within the past few decades. Which is why there are closed seasons for certain fish, ensuring a time when they can be left alone to breed in peace and to perpetuate their species.
They are mostly found in the Northern Bahamas but only the Nassau grouper is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species in need of protection. Sad to say, mankind is the main cause of the population fragility that has led to the official listing, and the imposition of a strict closed season for 3 months between December 1st and February 28th.
Scientific studies have shown that commercial overfishing has reduced a thriving population to fewer than 10,000 mature fish. An adult can grow to more than a meter long, and weigh 25 kg They tend to be solitary daytime feeders, eating small fish & crustaceans Their large mouths are used to ‘inhale’ or suck in prey The coloring of an individual can vary from red to brown These fish have little black spots around the eyes (I’ve no idea why).
Credits: all photos, Melinda River; Infographic by Royal Defense Force (tip o’ the hat to Char Albury); Info Sheet, Dept of Fisheries How to identify a Regrouped Color is variable and can change, however the head and body are generally dark brown with a reddish cast, shading to pink or reddish below, with pale poorly defined pale areas and small black spots around the eye.
Along all the coasts of Florida and the Bahamas, from inshore estuaries out to the deepest waters offshore Groupers are found. They are the most widely available of the game fish and also offer a great number of differing varieties.
The species have now started to make a comeback and have been renamed Goliath Grouper) are the most widely distributed. Most of the other species, Nassau, Red Hind, Black, Yellow fin and Scamp live in and around the coral reefs of the extreme south of Florida.
Groupers live close to the bottom and are always associated with some type of submerged structure i.e. reef or wreck. Adults inhabit rocky bottoms, reefs and drop-off walls in water over 60 feet deep; young occur inshore in waters around seagrass beds, mangrove forests and hard-bottom communities.
Adults inhabit rocky bottoms, reefs and drop-off walls in water over 60 feet deep; young occur inshore in waters around seagrass beds, mangrove forests and hard-bottom communities. Grouper are born as females but can later become male. Grouper spawn between January and May with some of the more tropical species spawning year-round. Grouper fishing from a boat typically involves baits fished near the bottom, with heavy tackle and heavier to bring grouper to the surface.
They feed on squid, crustaceans, and fish. The Florida record is 42lbs 4ozs caught near St. Augustine Inlet. Kevin Kelly displays a Goliath Grouper killed unfortunately by RED TIDE in 2005.
Jewish now known as the Goliath Grouper (Epimetheus Tamara) can attain weight up to 800lbs and is more common in the south of Florida than the north. Goliath Troopers are found nearshore often around docks, in deep holes, and on ledges.
Goliath Grouper spawn over summer months and have a lifespan of 30 to 50 years. NassauGrouper (Epimetheus stratus) common weight 1 to 10lbs. This grouper's range is limited to south Florida.
Nassau grouper form large spawning aggregations, making this species highly vulnerable to over harvest. Red Hind Grouper (Epimetheus Gustavus) common weight 1-2lbs.
The species is found in tropical and subtropical waters as deep as 400 feet, from North Carolina to Brazil, including the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Spawning occurs from March to July, and females release an average of 90 thousand to 3 million pelagic eggs.
The species may live up to 17 years or longer, and reach a length of 23 inches and a weight of 10 pounds. Red hind feed on small fishes, crabs, shrimps and squid.
Red hind will hide in holes and crevices and capture their prey by ambushWorld record 6lbs 1oz. Adults are associated with rocky bottoms, reef, and drop off walls in water over 60 feet deep.
Black grouper spawn between May and August, and they are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning that young predominantly female who transform into males as they grow larger. Larger individuals of this species are generally found in greater depths, and they feed on fish and squid.
Undergoes sex reversal from female to male in latter part of life; specific name translates to “venomous,” alluding to the fact that this fish, perhaps more frequently than other groupers, is associated with ciguatera poisoning; feeds on fish and squid. Florida record 34lbs 6oz caught near Key Largo. Yellow mouth Grouper (Mycteroperca interstitial is) has a color tan or brown with darker spots, or a network of spots, fused into lines; distinct yellow wash behind the jaws; yellow around the eyes; outer edges of fins yellowish.
Found OFFSHORE over reefs and rocks; not as common as scamp in the Gulf; range limited to southern Florida. Undergoes sex reversal, young individuals female, older individuals becoming male; young fish are bi-colored, dark above white below; feeds on small fish and crustaceans.
Warsaw Grouper (Epimetheus nitrites) is uniformly dark brown, with no distinct markings; dorsal fin with 10 spines; second spine very long (much longer than third); caudal fin squared-off; rear nostril larger than front nostril; young have yellow caudal fin with dark saddle on caudal peduncle; some whitish spots on body. On May 24th 2014, Cullen Greer reeled in a six-and-a-half-foot-long, 297-pound Warsaw grouper while fishing in Venice, Louisiana.
He was 35 miles from the end of the Mississippi Delta when he caught the giant fish. The most shocking part of this story may be that it won't go down as the largest fish ever caught in the state.
If the catch does get verified by the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, it would become the fifth-largest ever caught in the state. It could also go down in the state record books as the third-largest Warsaw caught by a hand crank, according to Greer.
Leaders need be substantial as these fish are usually on the large size and dive straight back into the whole in which they live. As the State Regulations are in constant flux we advise anglers to refer to www.MyFWC.com/fishing for the latest information.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council would like to gain a better understanding of what’s happening on the water. All anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel are required to obtain the State Reef Fish Angler designation.
Those with a Gulf Reef Fish Angler designation will meet the statewide requirement until the Gulf designation expires, even if you are fishing on the Atlantic coast. Gulf state waters are from shore to 9 nautical miles.
Atlantic state waters are from shore to 3 nautical miles. Participation mandatory to fish for grouper in Florida waters.
Expand All | Collapse All 1 gag or black within the 3 grouper aggregate Note: In the Atlantic reef fish fishery, gear rules require hooking tools, and as of Jan. 1, 2021, non-stainless steel hooks in all state waters, and non-offset circle hooks N. of 28 ° N. latitude.
Several species of Gulf grouper (red, black, scamp, yellow fin and yellow mouth) are closed Feb. 1-March 31 seaward of the 20-fathom break. Recreational anglers are encouraged to use electronic charting equipment to plot the 20-fathom break by entering the established coordinates listed on the map below into a route.
Monroe County: Several species of Atlantic grouper (red, black, yellow fin, yellow mouth, scamp, rock hind, red hind, Coney and grays by) are closed Jan. 1 – April 30 in all state and federal waters of the Atlantic including all state waters off Monroe County (Atlantic and Gulf sides). During this closure, anglers can harvest grouper in open federal waters of the Gulf and return to port in Monroe County by traveling through closed state waters of the Atlantic as long as the vessel proceeds directly to port without stopping to fish.
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. The once common Nassau grouper (Epimetheus stratus) and Goliath grouper (E. Tamara) have been so depleted that they are under complete protection from the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean.
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. 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. 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.