Popular locations to fish for GoliathGrouper include bridges and structure when angling inshore, and sunken wrecks and reefs offshore. The easily approachable nature of the grouper makes it a great fish for spear fishermen, though this has reduced its population in areas accessible to divers.
However, if you’re truly dedicated to muscling one of these mammoths to the boat, and you can endure the long and demanding battle of catching one, you’ll be rewarded with a prize like no other. Be sure to take lots of pictures, because you’ll definitely want proof to back up your story when regaling your jealous friends with your tale of triumph.
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 goliathgrouper caught by Buddy Junks at the Big Indian Rocks Fishing Pier, Florida (1976). Photo courtesy Kenneth Krzysztof historical importance to commercial fisheries, the goliathgrouper 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. The large size, slow growth, low reproductive rate, and spawning behavior have made the goliathgrouper especially susceptible to overfishing.
The goliathgrouper 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 goliathgrouper annual spawning aggregation sites greatly reduced the number of reproductive adults. Occurring in shallow, inshore waters to depths of 150 feet (46 m), the goliathgrouper 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 goliathgrouper ’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. Photo © Don Maria Size, Age, and Growth The goliathgrouper is the largest grouper in the western Atlantic.
However, this specimen was sampled from a population of individuals depressed by fishing pressure and it is projected that goliathgrouper may live much longer, perhaps as much as 50 years. 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 Goliath groupers are invariably male. Spawning occurs during the summer months of July, August, and September throughout the goliathgrouper ’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 goliathgrouper 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 goliathgrouper 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 goliathgrouper. The giant GoliathGrouper is arguably the most dramatic member of the Grouper family, and large mature specimens are kings of the reef, with no natural predators.
The GoliathGrouper is the largest member of the sea bass family found in the western Atlantic, reaching weights of 800 lbs. Its body is elongated but robust, with the widest point measuring more than half the fish’s total length.
Goliath's are generally brownish yellow, gray, or olive-colored, with small dark spots on head, body, and fins. GoliathGrouper Habitat and Behavior Goliath Groupers range the shallow, inshore tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Florida through the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and south along nearly the entire Brazilian coastline.
Goliath Groupers typically inhabit natural and artificial reefs in water depths of 16 to 160 feet. They prefer areas that have rock, coral, and mud bottoms along with high-relief features such as ledges, caves, and holes that can provide refuge.
The Goliath is one of the few groupers that inhabit brackish waters, with juveniles commonly found around mangroves and in estuaries, especially near oyster bars. Goliath Groupers are solitary fish and adults are territorial near their areas of refuge, displaying an open mouth and quivering body to intruders and sometimes producing an audible rumbling sound via muscular contractions of the swim bladder.
Goliath Groupers are ambush feeders that prey mostly on crustaceans such as spiny lobsters, shrimps, and crabs. The difference with the Goliath is that specialized ultra-heavy tackle will be needed if there is to be any chance of bringing a fish boat side.
The Atlantic goliathgrouper, like most groupers, is an ambush predator and eats fairly large fishes and invertebrates and even small sharks. Throughout most of the year, low numbers of the Atlantic Goliath groupers are observed in any one place.
However, during reproduction (immediately after the full moons between June and December), they come together in groups of at least 100 individuals. These groups are known as spawning aggregations, and they form at relatively few places throughout the species’ range.
Though they were likely naturally rare, scientists believe that destructive fishing practices have reduced the numbers of the Atlantic Goliath groupers by at least 80% and that the species is now critically endangered. Furthermore, a total lack of fear of people makes them an easy target for spear fishers.
Finally, the Atlantic goliathgrouper ’s large size, slow growth, and ease of capture all contribute to slow its recovery, even where laws have been put in place to give it some or complete legal protection from fishing (e.g., in the USA and Brazil). It is important to continue to monitor Atlantic goliathgrouper population trends in order to determine whether the species is recovering or if stronger legal protection may be required.
Scientists only recently divided the species into two, based on their slightly different genetic makeup. The two species are similar in both appearance and behavior, but little is known about the population trends or conservation status of the Pacific goliathgrouper.
The “bark” of the GoliathGrouper (Epimetheus Tamara) is this fish’s way of letting you know that you have invaded its personal space. The Goliath might be an exceptionally large fish, but it is really a big, harmless underwater puppy dog.
Canon 7D Mark II, 8-15 mm FE, Nautical NA-7DII. Each year starting in late summer and continuing into fall, GoliathGrouper aggregate for the purpose of spawning. Near West Palm Beach, Florida, these large fish seem to prefer to gather in the structure of some larger shipwrecks in the area.
Canon 5D Mark III, 16-35 mm, Nautical NA-5DIII. Goliaths are an interesting and challenging photographic subject. Part of the challenge in Palm Beach is the depth; the shipwrecks they prefer to haunt tend to be at 25-30 meters or deeper.
A typical strobe that nicely lights the face will be less effective at the pectoral fins and pretty much useless for the tail of a large grouper. At these depths, it is always a challenge to balance the ambient and strobe lighting in a way that looks pleasing but natural.
Canon 7D Mark II, 8-15 mm FE, Nautical NA-7DII. Lens selection is also a consideration when shooting Goliath's. Generally, I prefer rectilinear lenses for large subjects like sharks to minimize distortion when compared to a fish eye lens.
Canon 7D Mark II, 8-15 mm FE, Nautical NA-7DII. Pictures can be deceiving, and photos of these large aggregations can lead people to believe that all is well with the GoliathGrouper, but that is not the case. Because the spawning behavior pulls a normally dispersed population from hundreds of miles to aggregate in a few small areas, taking advantage of this poorly-timed opportunity to hunt and kill the grouper during their mating season will ensure the eradication of the species.