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Goliath Grouper Aggregation

author
Ava Flores
• Wednesday, 27 October, 2021
• 11 min read

Goliath groupers are the largest predatory, reef-dwelling fish species in the Caribbean, weighing as much as 660 pounds (300 kg) when fully grown. Game fishermen in the 20th century hunted them to such extremes that the species was near extinction along the Florida coastline by the 1990s.

grouper spawning aggregation goliath alamy months between during
(Source: www.alamy.com)

Contents

Those attempting to spot them in typical dive locations off the Palm Beach coast will be disappointed. Depending on the year, goliathgrouper numbers fluctuate between the different wrecks, with some enjoy a higher concentration than others.

Due to their sheer size, Goliath groupers often intimidate divers in the water. Divers who approach the fish should remain calm, not chase them, and swim slowly to avoid spooking them.

Following those rules and visiting the right sites at the right time of the year means a good chance to see one of the ocean’s truly spectacular spawning events. A Pad MST instructor, Chris graduated from university in 2016 with a degree in film and journalism.

His documentary depicting the adapting generation of whale hunters on the island of PICO won a Royal Television Award in 2017. Each year, between August and September, Goliath Groupers migrate in by the hundreds to spawn around the wrecks and reefs surrounding Palm Beach County.

We have trips planned to our beautiful local reefs and wrecks throughout the month of August to get you up close, swimming among huge schools of these magnificent fish. Growing up to 8ft long, and weighing around 400 lbs, Goliath Groupers are the gentle giants of the sea.

grouper goliath aggregation spawning months between during alamy jewfish august cave october beach
(Source: www.alamy.com)

Goliath's primarily feed on crustaceans, but they’ve been known to steal an opportunistic meal from an unsuspecting angler or diver, especially during mating aggregations. Historically, fishermen loved to catch GoliathGrouper as they were considered to be of fine food quality.

To attempt a population recovery, a harvest ban was put into place in 1990 in Florida, in 1993 in the Caribbean, and is still in effect. The goliathgrouper is considered critically endangered by the IUCN and a long recovery time is suspected as these fish exhibit slow growth rates.

In the eastern Atlantic, it occurs along West Africa from Senegal to Cabinet, Angola (for map and countries see IUCN Red List Assessment). Species Summary : The goliathgrouper is widely distributed and inhabits hard reef structure and mangrove areas.

It is the largest grouper in the western Atlantic, reaching over 2 m in length and nearly 450 kg in weight. Both juveniles and adults occupy home range areas, within which they exhibit some degree of territoriality, displaying to intruders with an open mouth, a quivering body and a booming sound generated by muscular contractions of the swim bladder.

The species reproduces in small (fewer than about 150 adults) aggregations at the same locations, including shipwrecks, each year, generally from August to mid-October (with some temporal variation) in relatively shallow (10-50 m) waters. Adults can migrate up to 500 km from areas of residence to spawning sites, as determined from tagging studies.

grouper florida goliath alamy aggregation palm near beach
(Source: www.alamy.com)

Unlike many other groupers, this species appears to be gonochoristic (separate sexes), although its sexual pattern has yet to be studied in detail. During the spawning aggregations, which can be dramatic with large numbers of large fish gathering in a small area, and are attractive to divers who are willing to pay to visit them, males and females interact and are often readily filmed and photographed.

Fisheries : Abundance is substantially reduced from former levels throughout the geographic range of the species, according to available information. In Florida, overfishing by commercial and recreational fishermen occurred rapidly because the characteristics of these fish–their longevity, aggregating behavior and sedentary nature, combined with technological advances in positioning gear over the last 30 years–made them particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure.

In South Brazil, historically present aggregations, once with least 60 individuals, have dwindled to only a dozen fish, according to local knowledge. Management/Conservation: A fishing moratorium has been in place in U.S. waters for the past 27 years, and the population has been mostly increasing as a result, although it is not yet fully recovered.

In Brazil, a fishing ban has been in place since 2002; however, due to lack of enforcement in most areas there is no sign of recovery, while removal and/or degradation of mangroves across the species range is a major threat to juvenile survival. In the U.S. other threats include reduced genetic diversity, health stresses caused by high mercury concentrations and localized recruitment failures caused by extreme red tide and cold water events in juvenile habitat.

Nonetheless, there are signs of growth in both juvenile and adult populations, following protection, with one aggregation off the southeast Florida coast that existed at least since the 1960s and disappeared in the 1980s, reappearing in 2005 with about 65 individuals. The problem of overfishing is intensified by the pressure exerted on juveniles, known as mates ”, which fishers do not recognize as having the same protected status as adults.

grouper goliath spawning aggregation jewfish months between during august alamy october
(Source: www.alamy.com)

Due to increases in goliathgrouper abundance, there is pressure in the U.S. from some commercial and recreational fishers to reopen its fishery. Regarding use and protection of this species, there is an interesting discussion regarding the human relationship with this (and similar charismatic megafauna), especially threatened species that were once heavily exploited regarding whether they should be exploited, and if so to what extent; interesting discussions on this issue are available in the papers cited by Mazzini et al. (2019); Koenig et al. (2019) and Chiseler et al. (2016) (see below).

Also, recent campaigns to raise awareness about the endangered condition and protected status of the species are increasing (e.g. www.merosdobrasil.org). Age, growth, and mortality of the Atlantic goliathgrouper Epimetheus Tamara in French Guiana.

Evidence for spawning aggregations of the endangered Atlantic goliathgrouper Epimetheus Tamara in southern Brazil. Regional age structure, reproductive biology and trophic patterns of adult GoliathGrouper in Florida.

Koenig, C.C., Buena, L.S., Coleman, F.C., Cu sick, J.A., Ellis, R.D., Klingon, K., Location, J.V., Malinowski, C., Marie, D.J. Died, lunar, and seasonal spawning patterns of the Atlantic goliathgrouper, Epimetheus Tamara, off Florida, United States.

From sea monsters to charismatic megafauna: Changes in perception and use of large marine animals. Recreational diver willingness to pay for goliathgrouper encounters during the months of their spawning aggregation off eastern Florida, USA.

spawning grouper goliath aggregation castor
(Source: www.youtube.com)

Assessing Fishing Experts’ Knowledge to Improve Conservation Strategies for an Endangered Grouper in the Southwestern Atlantic. I could not resist posting this short but awesome video of a goliathgrouperaggregation in the waters off Jupiter, Florida.

Well, they are more concerned with the larger fish, due to their skeletal structure not being able to handle the pressures of being out of the water. The FCC says on their regulations page that “removing smaller Goliath groupers from the water to remove hooks is not necessarily a bad practice, but this practice must be done with care”.

It is certainly a magnificent fish species that many fishermen scream at every day. These days, most all bottom fishermen have experienced the sudden, and heavy tug of a goliathgrouper as it ‘chomps’ down on the fish that is on your hook.

I usually have my eye on far-off horizons when it comes to scuba diving adventures -- to places like the remote Tuamotu Atolls of French Polynesia that teem with sharks, or the heart of the coral triangle in Indonesia’s Raja Am pat. And the chance to dive with fish that tip the 400-pound mark (sometimes even twice that) had me beelining it for Palm Beach County in Florida earlier this month.

Each year off the coast of Jupiter, Florida, between late July and early October, hundreds of grouper -- some the size of golf carts, and up to 10 feet long -- show up to sow their wild oats in a spawning event that’s been likened to an underwater orgy. I did a giant stride off the boat with my BCD emptied of air and let my own weight pull me gently down, down, down through glacier-blue water as warm as a bathtub.

grouper goliath florida aggregation groupers diving species conservation diver castor scuba marine travel dive
(Source: scubadiverlife.com)

Suddenly, there they were: a band of eight enormous fish that appeared to be posing like some indie rock group on an album cover, staggered in style and hovering a few feet off the seabed. They do the deed right around the new moon, usually at night or in the early morning hours, and it’s apparently a fast and furious affair.

Known as the grouper ’s “bark,” the fish make these aggressive sounds with a muscle in their swim bladders as a form of communication during the spawning event. At one point I caught sight of a sleeping nurse shark, easily eight feet long, tucked away under an outcropping of reef.

I swam atop the wreck to fin through clouds of tropical fish and enjoy the neutral buoyancy that feels, more than ever these days, like therapy. Somewhere beyond the grouper, out in the blue, the glint of a patrolling reef shark registered on my radar -- exciting in itself, but the big fish had long ago stolen the show.

DINE : Goliath grouper have been a federally protected species since 1990 and also have high levels of mercury in their bodies, so you won’t find them on local menus. STAY : Check into the brand-new downtown West Palm Beach property, The Ben, with a gorgeous rooftop pool and a restaurant, Spruce, with views over the Intracoastal Waterway.

Wonder how it compares to the ESO Bonfire wreck down in Jupiter? Even though I dive regularly in Jupiter I’ve not been on the ESO Bonfire.

(Source: www.youtube.com)

Castor is off of Delay about 45 min south of Jupiter by car. There is an endemic year round population of Goliath Grouper on the Castor, maybe 20 individuals, you often see about half that number or so.

There are generally fewer GG on the ESO Bonfire, off season and during aggregation. There are a couple of Bull Sharks on the Castor but you don't always see them, and they tend to be skittish.

The Atlantic goliathgrouper or Tamara (Epimetheus Tamara), also known as the Jewish, is a large saltwater fish of the grouper family found primarily in shallow tropical waters among coral and artificial reefs at depths from 5 to 50 m (16 to 164 ft). Its range includes the Florida Keys in the US, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean and most of the Brazilian coast.

On some occasions, it is caught off the coasts of the US states of New England off Maine and Massachusetts. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, it occurs from the Congo to Senegal.

Young Atlantic Goliath groupers may live in brackish estuaries, oyster beds, canals, and mangrove swamps, which is unusual behavior among groupers. They may reach extremely large sizes, growing to lengths up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) and can weigh as much as 360 kg (790 lb).

grouper goliath florida aggregation
(Source: www.youtube.com)

The world record for a hook-and-line-captured specimen is 308.44 kg (680.0 lb), caught off Fernanda Beach, Florida, in 1961. Considered of fine food quality, Atlantic goliathgrouper were a highly sought-after quarry for fishermen.

It is a relatively easy prey for spear fishermen because of the grouper's inquisitive and generally fearless nature. They also tend to spawn in large aggregations, returning annually to the same locations.

Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is recognized as “vulnerable” globally and “endangered” in the Gulf of Mexico.

The species' population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish's slow growth rate, however, some time will be needed for populations to return to their previous levels. Goliath groupers are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites, which refer to organisms that are born female and at some point in their lifespans change sex to male.

Males can be sexually mature at about 115 centimeters (45 in), and ages 4–6 years. In May 2015, the Atlantic goliathgrouper was successfully bred in captivity for the first time.

(Source: www.youtube.com)

Tidal pools act as nurseries for juvenile E. Tamara. In tidal pools juvenile E.Tamara are able to utilize rocky crevices for shelter.

Besides shelter, tidal pools provide E. Tamara with plenty of prey such as lobster and porcelain crab. The Atlantic goliathgrouper has historically been referred to as the “Jewish”.

It may have referred to the fish's status as inferior leading it to be declared only suitable for Jews, or the flesh having a “clean” taste comparable to kosher food ; it has also been suggested that this name is simply a corruption of jaw fish or the Italian word for “bottom fish”, Giuseppe. In 2001, the American Fisheries Society stopped using the term because of complaints that it was culturally insensitive.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Age, Growth, and Reproduction of Jewish Epimetheus Tamara in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Pseudorhabdosynochus species (Monogenoidea, Diplectanidae) parasitizing groupers (Serranidae, Epinephrine, Epinephrine) in the western Atlantic Ocean and adjacent waters, with descriptions of 13 new species”. Wikimedia Commons has media related to Epimetheus Tamara.

(Source: www.youtube.com)

All customers are asked to bring face coverings for social distancing in the restaurant and marina areas. We are proudly docked year round in front of Square Grouper Wiki Bar at the Castaway Marina, which provides an atmosphere that is second to none.

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Sources
1 squaregrouperbarandgrill.com - https://squaregrouperbarandgrill.com/
2 www.tripadvisor.com - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g34164-d531207-Reviews-The_Square_Grouper_Bar_and_Grill-Cudjoe_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
3 www.tripadvisor.com - https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34164-d531207-r673896880-The_Square_Grouper_Bar_and_Grill-Cudjoe_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
4 www.tripadvisor.com - https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34164-d531207-r672485294-The_Square_Grouper_Bar_and_Grill-Cudjoe_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
5 www.tripadvisor.com - https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34164-d531207-r464512131-The_Square_Grouper_Bar_and_Grill-Cudjoe_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
6 www.tripadvisor.com - https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34164-d531207-r666019383-The_Square_Grouper_Bar_and_Grill-Cudjoe_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
7 squaregrouperislamorada.com - https://squaregrouperislamorada.com/
8 www.tripadvisor.ca - https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g34164-d531207-Reviews-or20-The_Square_Grouper_Bar_and_Grill-Cudjoe_Key_Florida_Keys_Florida.html
9 places.singleplatform.com - http://places.singleplatform.com/the-square-grouper-bar--grill/menu