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Goliath Grouper Conservation Status

author
James Smith
• Sunday, 27 December, 2020
• 18 min read

The once common Nassau grouper (Epimetheus stratus) and goliathgrouper (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 goliathgrouper.

grouper goliath pacific status conservation colombia
(Source: www.conservationleadershipprogramme.org)

Contents

This goliathgrouper 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 goliathgrouper 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 goliathgrouper. 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.

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 goliathgrouper (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 goliathgrouper assessment for the continental U.S. population.

grouper goliath pacific wikipedia conservation status epinephelus
(Source: en.m.wikipedia.org)

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. Is an exceptionally large marine fish that inhabits sub-tropical and tropical waters of the Americas and western Africa.

Due to a lack of readily observable morphological variation in specimens across its range, the GoliathGrouper has been regarded as a single species. However, recent genetic assessments show that there are six distinct populations (Evolutionary Significant Units, Jesus), and that these Jesus have independent evolutionary trajectories and require individually planned management and conservation strategies (Benefices et al. 2014; Craig et al. 2009).

South America GoliathGrouper (Epimetheus Tamara; type from Brazil, heavily overfished). Pacific GoliathGrouper (now Epimetheus quinquefasciatus; type from Guatemala, heavily overfished).

Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, with other invertebrate species and fish filling in the rest. Among the many species threatened, my concern focuses on the GoliathGrouper whose habitat encompasses the entire US continental shelf.

Since a majority of people enjoys eating this species of fish and because of their abundance, they have provided a great source of income for fishermen, resulting in the GoliathGrouper becoming a harvest target for commercial and recreational fisheries. For example the relationship between sea predators and other small fish that depends on established habitats may be preventing the GoliathGrouper from surviving as in the past, however, the results of those issues are not known at this time.

goliath status range conservation epinephelus itajara grouper introduction wide
(Source: www.researchgate.net)

Not only that, several organizations such as the NFS recognizes the declines in abundance of goliathgrouper and had put a great effort to provide additional consideration to manage the status of the species. The issue was at first locally because this fish is distributed from North Carolina through Texas along all the way from central east coast of Florida through the Gulf of Mexico.

According to National Marine Fisheries Service, “Both the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GM FMC) and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SFMC) prohibited the harvest and possession of goliathgrouper in 1990.” In addition to those states, Florida State did likewise and then all other coastal states did the same, prohibiting the harvest of the Goliath, from North Carolina through Texas (MacKinnon et al. 43-48). Scientist should get involved directly with fisheries and explain to them the long term benefits by not harvesting the goliathgrouper.

4 There are three major special interest groups in the issue of the conservation of the GoliathGrouper ; fishermen, conservationists (scientists) and the policymakers who are politicians. The GAP Good Practice guide asserts that one of the most complicated things to explain to fishermen is the long term benefits of conservation.

It further goes on to stress the importance of coming up with ways of convincing fishers to collaborate with science in resource conservation. The MSF CMA on the other hand assert that fishers and policymakers do need to respect the process of research and its results even in instances where they are inconsistent with expectations, or they are not as certain as hoped for (23-45).

The fishers’ arguments are mainly in form of economics as scientific studies in most instances put limits on the extent of their trade. 5 Taking into the account the various differences in sentiment between the fishermen, the policymakers and the scientists, it is hard to believe that they can find a common ground regarding the conservation of the GoliathGrouper.

grouper goliath belize sustainable management caribbean
(Source: goliathgrouperbelize.org)

For the fishermen a bigger catch of fish means more income while for the scientist this is endangerment of the species (MacKinnon et al. 78-95). The government on the other hand has a delicate act of balancing between the economic interests of the fishermen and the public good.

The law asserts that all the fish off the United States Coasts, the highly migratory species in the oceans, those dwelling on the continental shelf of the US, and all analogous species spawning the rivers and estuaries of the US are valuable and renewable resources which ought to be preserved for posterity. The law contended that; commercial fishing was a major source of employment and to the economy, international fishery agreements have proved ineffective in reducing or eradicating overfishing, fishery resources are finite yet renewable if a functional management authority is put in place.

According to the MS FCM (123-33) the law therefore under the Presidential Proclamation 5030 of March 10, 1983, enforced the right of exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of fish in the exclusive economic zone set up. It also agreed on the implementation of international agreements concerning the management of highly migratory fish species.

There is to be the establishment of Regional Fishery Management Councils which would be in charge of coordinating the social and economic needs of the public and government policy by drawing up plans. It is a matter of common knowledge that international fishing agreements have been highly ineffective in controlling overfishing.

The establishment of a fishing management authority is however not a new thing as such an idea can only work if proper enforcement policies are adhered to. The goals of the project are neither too ambitious nor too modest as they address the problems of conservation according to the most pressing prevailing circumstances.

vimeo goliath florida grouper enable glory javascript experience please its
(Source: vimeo.com)

The setting up of regional fishery management councils while laudable may force opposition from the fishing stakeholders who may not like interference in their affairs (NFS 33-35). The allowance for all stakeholder participation though may make this idea workable though it may slow down the process of formulation and implementation due to disagreements.

While these policy interventions may improve the current situation more needs to be done in order to achieve more concrete and long term solutions. Weeksdayshoursminutes secondsOrder now8 In order to make the policy workable a number of changes need to be introduced into the bill; the setting up of an exclusive zone could negatively impact international cooperation concerning fishing and as such more detailed discussions should be held with other international partners, international agreements should be entered into only with countries which have mutual interest if they are to be enforced, the regional fish management councils need to be streamlined if decision-making is to be made faster, The establishing of optimum levels for fisheries needs to be revised as science is not exact and the setting up of optimum levels could endanger fish species.

The fact that this is an election year would also make the Republicans warm up to the idea as Americans are increasingly environmental conscious. Opposition though might come form some members from states which traditionally have large fishing industries such as Florida and Alaska.

In order to improve the perception of this issue on the political arena politicians and the public need top be educated and informed on how the policy is for the good of all and not supposed to target the livelihood of some people (MacKinnon et al. 56-63). Southern stingrays, a green moray eel, and two sea turtles also share this exciting exhibit.

Sand tiger sharks are found in the shallow, coastal tropical waters of all oceans except the central and eastern Pacific. Adult sharks are 4-8 feet long, have hunch backs, narrow snouts, and a golden-brown sheen.

grouper goliath atlantic itajara giant ikan epinephelus tortugas dry mero mulut hiu guasa species endangered national park kerapu asin takluk
(Source: greenglobaltravel.com)

Diet This nocturnal hunter feeds on bony fish, small sharks and rays, octopus, and large crustaceans. Unique Adaptations Sand tiger sharks are often found in groups of a few dozen, hovering in caves or near reefs or shipwrecks.

Sand tigers migrate, coming toward shore during the summer and moving southward or to deeper waters in the winter. Reproduction Female sand tiger sharks are viviparous (producing living young from eggs that hatch within the body).

Southern stingrays inhabit temperate waters of bays and estuaries from New Jersey to Brazil, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Diet Rays feed on a wide variety of bottom organisms, such as crustaceans (shrimp and crab), mollusks (snails and shellfish), and worms.

They crush their food with strong plates in their mouths and expel sand through their spiracles (just behind their eyes). Development is viviparous (pups hatch from their egg capsules while inside the mother’s uterus and are born soon after).

In the early spring and summer, females may leave the water and return to their home beach to nest. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are carnivores, feeding on crabs, mollusks, jellyfish, mussels, and fish.

grouper goliath gulf atlantic florida bradenton diving fish conservation marine species mexico underwater ocean
(Source: oceandiplomat.wordpress.com)

Unique Adaptations Streamlined bodies and flippers make these large animals powerful swimmers and divers-some species routinely diving to depths greater than 1,000 feet and staying underwater for several hours. Unlike their freshwater relatives, sea turtles have a special gland that rids their bodies of excess salts.

These events are called an “arrived” and take place on a small strip of beach at Ranch Nero, Mexico. Their populations have declined due to commercial harvest of turtle meat, eggs, skins for leather, and shells for ornaments and jewelry.

They die from ingesting marine debris, such as plastic bags, or get caught in nets as by catch and drown. Moray eels are found in tropical reefs and shallows from New Jersey to Brazil, including Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico.

They feed on fish and crustaceans, especially crabs, and use their long, slender bodies to enter holes and crevices in search of hidden prey. Despite warning predators with a large open mouth and sharp teeth, morays are not aggressive and do not usually bite unless provoked.

Moray eels begin adult life as males, then later change to females (sex reversal). Cobra can be found on the western coast of the Atlantic from Massachusetts to Argentina, often in open waters.

goliath grouper noaa fisheries status southeast monitoring scientists recovery science center
(Source: www.fisheries.noaa.gov)

They frequently follow large animals like sea turtles, sharks, and rays to scavenge leftovers. They live in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean, along the eastern coast of the U.S. and south to Brazil and Uruguay.

Jacks are typically light, usually silver with red pigmentation which disappears in dark ocean water. Diet These strong-swimming carnivores rely on speed and strength to catch their prey, which includes small fish, cope pods, and other ocean animals.

Unique Adaptations Jacks are often found swimming with sharks, but when roaming the open sea they school as a defense mechanism. Jacks can also be seen hitching a free ride in the bow wake of their predatory “companions.” Juveniles hide among jellyfish, debris, plants, etc, and have a deeper and sleeker appearance then the adults.

They prefer the sheltered habitats of coral reefs, and especially shady areas such as shipwrecks, rock ledges, and caves. Atlantic goliathgrouper have a broad, flat head and mouth, and can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 700 pounds.

These hunters are not built for speed over long distances and prefer to ambush prey, rather than pursue it in open water. The diet of these large predators consists mainly of crab, lobster, fish, octopus, and young sea turtles.

grouper goliath fish ocean florida atlantic keys marine giant species line noaa mote reef diving coral fishes thread oceana key
(Source: oceana.org)

Habits and Adaptations Atlantic Goliath groupers are often spotted or dark, allowing them to camouflage with their surroundings. Small groupers may be preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel, moray eels, and sharks.

When threatened, an Atlantic goliathgrouper will defend its territory with aggressive body language and a distinctly audible rumbling sound. Usually brown, with some yellow on the underside, these stocky, slow swimming fishes have a large head and a “box-shaped” body.

Diet Porcupine fish use their strong beaks to crush coral polyps, mollusks, crustaceans, crabs, and sea urchins. Unique Adaptations Puffers hide in coral and as their name implies, can puff up two to three times their normal size by sucking air or water into a special chamber in their abdomen.

Puffers employ a number of defenses to avoid getting eaten: they are covered with sharp spines, their internal organs contain an extremely toxic nerve poison, and when cornered they can bury themselves in the sand. This important food fish can be found in warm coastal waters, from Massachusetts to Brazil, including Bermuda and the Gulf of Mexico.

They have a triangular-shaped head and a notched tail, and are capable of inflicting injuries to unsuspecting fishermen with their well-developed teeth. Tarpon are found in tropical and temperate waters along the eastern Atlantic coasts of North and South America.

grouper goliath creature feature aboard aggressor dive cuba adventures queen while garden
(Source: seaofchange.com)

Unique Adaptations When swimming in oxygen-poor water, tarpons can gulp air from the surface using special lung-like bladders. Initially the young head to shallow water where they become an intricate part of the plankton that drifts with ocean currents far from shore.

Trigger fish usually spend a large portion of their lives near a coral reef-inhabiting areas in coastal waters from New York to Brazil. Small eyes set high on a large, angular head and jaw give them a “bucktoothed” appearance.

Diet Trigger fish have powerful jaws and teeth that allow them to easily crush hard-shelled prey like crustaceans, mollusks, coral, and sea urchins. The Queen trigger fish will blow mouthfuls of water at sea urchins to flip them over and expose their softer underparts.

The Goliath grouper reaches a length of 8 feet (240 cm) and the largest published weight is 1003 lbs. The base of the soft dorsal and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin.

The juvenile Goliath grouper, which is less than 39 inches (100 cm), is tawny or yellowish-brown in color with irregular darker brown vertical bands. The larger adult fish is gray or greenish with pale blotches and smaller dark brown or blackish spots scattered over the upper part of its head, body and pectoral fins.

goliath grouper florida fishing captiva state workshops sanibel fwc conservation throughout commission hosting several wildlife starting fish july hank report
(Source: floridafishingreport.net)

The goliathgrouper is capable of producing a loud booming noise, which may be used to defend territory or during courtship. The Goliath grouper feeds primarily on crustaceans, especially spiny lobsters, as well as turtles, fish and stingrays.

This species is an ambush hunter that feeds during the day, with increased activity during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk. This is accompanied by rapidly expansion of its jaws and flaring of the gill covers which create a vacuum that sucks the prey into its mouth.

The Goliath grouper occurs in the western Atlantic from Florida to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Populations began to decline in the 1960s when recreational SCUBA divers would swim up to the fearless fish and spear it at close range.

This consists of a “threat display” to intruders by opening its mouth wide and shaking its body or producing a loud booming sound (see below). The Goliath grouper will travel many miles during one or two months each year to mate in huge spawning aggregations at traditional breeding grounds.

As the male approaches the female, its entire forebode, from the pectoral fins forward, turns pale, contrasting sharply with its dark rest of the body. The eggs hatch into transparent larvae that quickly develop long spines and a large mouth.

goliath groupers endangered sharks critically grouper corals hope state shark mission
(Source: mission-blue.org)

After drifting with the current for 25 to 45 days, the one-inch larvae settle to the bottom in shallow-water mangrove habitats where they hide while completing metamorphosis into juveniles. Large areas of mangrove forests are vital for the larvae and juveniles until they reach 30 lbs.

When you think of the largest fish in the ocean, images of sharks, marlins and even tuna probably come to mind first. Another one you’d be wise to start considering is the Atlantic goliathgrouper, 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. Atlantic GoliathGrouper, 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 goliathgrouper as being nothing more than a big, lazy nuisance.

The giant of the grouper family, the Goliath (formerly called Jewish) has brown or yellow mottling with small black spots on the head and fins, a large mouth with jawbones that extend well past its small eyes, and a rounded tail. The skeletal structure of large Goliath grouper cannot adequately support their weight out of the water without some type of damage.

goliath grouper fish florida atlantic itajara epinephelus wild facts lifespan fishing hd behavior branson
(Source: www.petworlds.net)

If a large Goliath is brought on-board a vessel or out of the water, it is likely to sustain some form of internal injury and therefore be considered harvested. Goliath grouper populations declined throughout their range during the 1970s and 1980s due to increased fishing pressure from commercial and recreational fishers and divers.

At their July 2014 meeting in Key Largo, this committee reviewed the most up-to-date scientific information on goliathgrouper and recommended a new stock assessment for this species. As a result, the most recent stock assessment, conducted by the FCC was completed in June 2016 (Sedan 47).

The stock assessment indicates abundance in south Florida has greatly increased since the fishery closed in 1990. However, in the final step of the review process, the assessment was rejected by an independent panel of scientists for use in federal management due to a lack of reliable indicators of abundance outside south Florida.

Goliath are also susceptible to large scale mortality events such as cold temperatures and red tide blooms. When not feeding or spawning, adult Goliath groupers are generally solitary, sedentary and territorial.

Before the goliathgrouper reaches full-size it is preyed upon by barracuda, king mackerel and moray eels, as well as sandbar and hammerhead sharks. Calico crabs make up the majority of their diet, with other invertebrate species and fish filling in the rest.

goliath fishing grouper report fort myers boca grande blind pass tampa charters sanibel lb florida captiva north wreck bradley reports
(Source: floridafishingreport.net)

Reproductive maturity first occurs in fish 5 or 6 years of age (about 36 inches in length) due to their slow growth rate. Males mature at a smaller size (about 42 inches) and slightly younger age than females.

These groups occur at consistent sites such as wrecks, rock ledges and isolated patch reefs during July, August and September. Studies have shown fish may move up to 62 miles (100 km) from inshore reefs to these spawning sites.

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).

goliath grouper captiva fishing sanibel monday
(Source: captivafishing.net)

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.

florida lauderdale fort meeting dema wildlife fish goliath grouper regarding legislative alert conservation fwc commission april
(Source: www.divenewswire.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.

grouper goliath fwc fish height naturecoaster
(Source: myfwc.com)

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Sources
1 heavy.com - https://heavy.com/news/2018/07/goliath-grouper-eats-shark-video/
2 www.wptv.com - https://www.wptv.com/news/protecting-paradise/video-hammerhead-shark-attacks-goliath-grouper-off-singer-island
3 www.express.co.uk - https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1241075/shark-news-latest-great-white-hammerhead-attack-singer-island-florida-USA
4 www.travelerstoday.com - https://www.travelerstoday.com/articles/11480/20140822/goliath-grouper-attacks-4-foot-black-tip-shark-groupers-considered.htm
5 elexonic.com - https://elexonic.com/2019/07/14/feeding-frenzy-of-11-sharks-ends-in-surprising-twist-and-a-mouthful-of-shark-for-1-grouper/
6 www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu - https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/museum-voices/webology/tag/sharks/