The Gulf of Mexico gag population declined for several years beginning in 2005, possibly due to a major “red tide” event (an algal bloom that releases potent neurotoxin). Managers implemented a number of measures to rebuild the stock, and it was declared rebuilt in 2014.
Smaller fish are much lighter and have dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along their sides. Gag grow slowly, can reach more than 3 feet in length, and weigh up to 50 pounds.
In the Gulf of Mexico, managed under the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan : Annual catch limit allocated between the commercial (39 percent) and recreational (61 percent) fisheries. Restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish, to reduce by catch and protect spawning groups.
Area closures for both commercial and recreational fisheries to protect spawning groupers. 1 At Big Pier 60 in Clearwater, silver trout, sleepyhead, bonnet head sharks and a few mangrove snapper were caught over the weekend.
Sleepyhead are also biting around the pilings, reports Big Pier 60 Bait & Tackle (727-462-6466). 2 At Madeira Beach, the nearshore dogfish bite is very good in water 30- to 80-feet deep.
Black fin tuna numbers are increasing past 110 feet for the pelagic anglers, reports Capt. 4 At Fort De Soto Park, sleepyhead are thick at the marina and the bridge.
Whiting, silver trout and some pompano are biting in Ounces Pass, reports Capt. Free lined pinkish over shallow structure and the reefs have been producing fish in the 25- to 30-inch range, reports Capt.
The gag grouper bite remains strong around the rock piles and ledges in the 14 to 25-foot range and also deeper along the shipping channel. Some docks are holding redfish along with the occasional flounder, reports Crawford.
The pompano bite has been very good around Terra Can and Anna Maria Sound, reports Hunter. 7 At St. Petersburg, gag grouper are biting along the shipping channel from Port Manatee to the Skyway and on the artificial reefs in the bay.
Pinellas Point is good for trout on the deeper grass flats and cuts. Redfish and sleepyhead are biting on the oyster bars and around the docks and canals.
Weldon Island is still holding some shook and good numbers of redfish, trout and sleepyhead, reports Mastery’s Tackle (727-896-8889). 8 In the north end of Tampa Bay, sleepyhead have moved in thick on most structure, the reefs and around the bridges.
A few redfish are biting around the Andy and Weldon Island area, but there’s better numbers in the upper bay. Some cobias is biting around the markers and areas with warm water runoff, reports Andy Bait & Tackle (813-839-5551).
Fresh dead or live shrimp are the best bait and if the grass porgies starting biting, it's time to move to a new spot, reports Capt. • At Fort Pierce, the offshore bottom bite at 80 feet is steady for lane snapper with a few buttons and mangroves mixed in.
Spanish mackerel are biting in 30 feet of water to the north around the Very Cove. Sleepyhead, black drum and sand perch are active inside the inlet and around the bridges, reports Clint Walker at the Fishing Center of St. Lucie (772-465-7637).
Like many groupers, they start out as females, and then change into males at a certain age or size after a few spawning seasons. They prefer rocky or grassy bottoms of coastal waters in the Western Atlantic, where they can hunt crustaceans and smaller fish, and grow to well over 4 feet long.
Order: Performed Family: Serranidae Genus: Mycteroperca Species: microbes English language common names include gag grouper, charcoal belly, gag, gag -velvet rock fish and velvet rock fish. Photo © Sean Morale gag grouper provides important recreational and commercial fisheries.
Ciguatera poisoning is caused by dinoflagellates (micro algae) found on dead corals or macro algae. By feeding on these corals and macro algae, herbivorous fishes accumulate a toxin generated by these dinoflagellates.
If accumulated levels of the toxin are great enough they can cause poisoning in humans whom consume the flesh of these fishes. Poisoned people report having gastrointestinal problems for up to several days, and a general weakness in their arms and legs.
Photo courtesy Outranked among the most valuable fisheries in the southeastern US, the gag grouper is sought after both recreationally and commercially. The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.
There have also been records of gag grouper occurring off the coasts of Bermuda, Cuba, and eastern Brazil. Recordings have been made of adult gag grouper producing thumping sounds through the swim bladder by vibrations resulting from the contraction of associated musculature.
Illustration courtesy FAO Distinctive Features The gag grouper is typical among the groupers with an oblong-shaped elongate body. The bases of the dorsal and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin.
The properly (a boomerang-shaped bone whose edges form the posterior and lower margins of the cheek region; the most anterior of the bones comprising the gill cover) is angular and slightly notched with a distinct lobe. This characteristic also helps to distinguish the gag grouper from black grouper which has a gently rounded properly.
Juveniles and mature females are pale to brown-gray with dark blotches and worm-shaped markings resulting in a marbled appearance. Inactive individuals sometimes display a camouflaged pattern with dark brown “saddles” separated by white bars just below the dorsal fin.
Large mature males are pale to medium gray in color with barely visible reticulations below the dorsal fin. Photo © George RyschkewitschThe gag grouper is often confused with the black grouper, however it may be distinguished based on the color of the fin margins.
Males reach maturity at approximately 8 years of age and a correlating total length of 39 inches (98 cm) while females mature at 5-6 years of age and 26-30 inches (67-75 cm) total length. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey Food Habits Adult gag grouper primarily feed on fishes, crabs, shrimps, and cephalopods while juveniles measuring less than 8 inches (20 cm) in length feed on crustaceans residing in shallow grass beds.
This transition generally occurs at 10-11 years of age corresponding to lengths of 37-39 inches (95-100 cm). Eggs hatch after approximately 45 hours at water temperatures of 70ºF (21ºC) (laboratory study).
The kite-shaped larvae persist for 40-50 days, as post larvae they migrate from the spawning grounds to inshore seagrasses, mangroves, oyster reefs and salt marshes. Juveniles remain in these locations for approximately 3-5 months before they migrate to offshore reefs.
Photo © George Burgess Predators Juvenilegaggrouper may fall prey to cannibalism as well as to large fishes. However, this name was later changed by taxonomists to the currently valid Mycteroperca microbes (Goode and Bean, 1879).
“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.
“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. 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.
A stock assessment update, Sedan 53, for red grouper was completed in February 2017 using data through 2015. 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.
“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. Like many fish species in the wrasse family, young gag grouper are predominantly female, transforming into males as they grow larger.
The coloration of this species is extremely variable but generally brownish gray overall with a pattern of dark, worm-like or kiss-shaped markings along the sides. Gags can be distinguished from black grouper, Mycteroperca Monaco, that often occur in the same habitat by the distinctive color pattern and the shape of the properly (the middle bone of the gill cover).
Wrecks and oil rigs in shallow shelf waters of the Gulf also attract many gag grouper. Trolling lipped diving plugs in shallower areas of rocky bottom or reef is also a very effective method to catch these fish.
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NOAA Fisheries and the FCC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) announced that Grouper season in Federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are effective June 1, 2019, until December 31, 2019. Next, we’ll discuss WHERE to fish for Grouper : Adult and juvenile Groupers can be found both inshore and offshore the Gulf Coast; Specifically, anywhere from 3 miles to 100 miles off the coast (really anything that’s over 60 feet deep).
They particularly like to hide in holes, ledges and underwater structures such as sunken ships, oil or gas rigs, and man-made reefs. So, with your Gulf of Mexico Professional Captain’s GPS and Fish finder electronics, start looking for the hiding places and you should find the fish.
Offshore fishing for Grouper starts with the bait: We’ve found that live bait fish is the best option; though many anglers have caught Gags on spinning and plug tackle. Once hooked they tend to run back to their holes and you’ll need heavy gear so you don’t lose your line.
We recommend trolling with the tide, as running against it usually pulls the lure over the Gags head, and they don’t have time to see it. Your Professional Charter Captain or Fishing Guide will have tips and techniques for catching your limit.
Whether you’re bottom fishing or trolling, catching a Grouper is a thrill for any angler! And let’s not forget: Grouper is very tasty and makes for a delicious fish dinner.
Gag, Mycteroperca microbes, is the most abundant and widely distributed of the seven grouper species that may occur as juveniles in North Carolina estuaries. Gag larvae migrate from offshore spawning areas to high salinity estuaries and are most common in seagrass beds.
With growth, many gags moved from grass beds to other complex estuaries habitats. Most young-of-the-year gag left the estuaries for offshore reefs during mid-late autumn, and cold weather fronts may have precipitated these emigrations.
After carefully weaving between sandy shoals lining the waterways of Back Sound, Danielle Keller drops anchor and starts gathering her research equipment. As the tide falls, oysters spit and least terns dive-bomb the shore as a warning to not come any closer to their nesting areas.
Keller, a doctoral candidate in Joel Force’s lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences, studies the seagrass communities covering the seafloor of Middle Marsh, part of the Rachel Carson Reserve. Keller is evaluating how different seagrasses serve as nursery and refuge areas for fish species such as gag grouper and gulf flounder.
Danielle’s work will help researchers and resource managers understand how a potential shift of habitat from eel grass to shoal grass could affect these important fish species,” says John Fear, Sea Grant deputy director. According to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, between 134,000 and 200,000 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation exist in North Carolina’s estuaries.
In addition to providing shelter for economically important fish, crabs and invertebrates, seagrasses buffer wave energy, stabilize sediment and filter pollutants. “Seagrass meadows are especially susceptible to temperature increases, which have an effect on biochemical reactions, important to their growth, production and overall functioning,” Keller explains.
Eel grass (Zoster marina) is the predominant species, followed by shoal grass (Handle wright ii) and widgeongrass (Russia maritime). The hardiest of the three species, eel grass entices juvenile fish needing refuge from predators with its thick, tall leaves.
Shoal grass, on the other hand, has thinner and shorter leaves but can tolerate warmer water temperatures and grow at shallower depths. Danielle Keller, left, is identifying what seagrasses grow at her study sites, aided by Mariah Liverpool, right.
By tracking their movement, Keller can see where the tagged fish spend their time as shoal grass replaces the dying eel grass. These tiny fish seek shelter from predators in natural structures in the estuary but scientists have developed a device called the Withal Collector that can both protect the juvenile grouper, but also keep them available for monitoring.
One such monitoring site is in the marsh near Winy ah Bay and Georgetown at the USC Belle W. Baruch Marine Lab. Witham Collector marked as off limits to the public The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is a partner in the Ingress study, and I was able to ride along with two DNR staffers in search of the small gag grouper. The NI-WB Near is surrounded by large protected properties like Hob caw Barony and the Yaw key Preserve, making it an ideal location to study gag grouper juveniles in a pristine area.
The gag grouper (Mycteroperca microbes) is a drab, mottled gray fish lacking the distinguishing features of other groupers. The distribution of gag grouper extends in the western Atlantic from North Carolina, USA (with juveniles occurring as far north as Massachusetts) to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico; it is rare in Bermuda and absent from the Caribbean and Bahamas.
Gags are the most common grouper on rocky ledges in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Juvenile gags reside in estuaries and seagrass beds while adults are usually found offshore on hard substrate in water 60 – 250 feet deep (rarely to 152 m) and occasionally inshore on rocky or grassy bottom.