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.
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. This skilled ambush hunter can be found in shallow reef environments in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, where it feeds on crustaceans, rays, fish and even turtles.
This grouper is known to exhibit territorial behavior near its preferred spot on a reef or wreck, and may threaten intruders by shaking its body, opening its mouth wide or even using its swim bladder to make a loud booming noise 8 feet (240 cm) Crustaceans, especially spiny lobsters, as well as turtles, fish and stingrays Atlantic Ocean and eastern Pacific Ocean Shallow water 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. 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. 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. Due to short dive times at depths of 100 feet or more, there have been few recorded observations of the courtship of the Goliath grouper.
The Ten A Thousand Islands area of Southwest Florida is one of few locations in the world where goliathgrouper have reestablished a viable population. Read below to learn more about goliathgrouper, the history of its declining and recovering population, and how you can get involved as fisheries scientists continue to research and manage this species.
Juvenilegoliath are typically more brown or tan with a more noticeable pattern of dark, blotched, vertical lines. Once they reach reproductive age, goliathgrouper form large aggregations of 100 or more individuals during the summer spawning months of July, August, and September.
These aggregations gather at shallow ledge or shoreline sites such as the mangrove forests of Ten A Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Threats Several life history traits of goliathgrouper make the species particularly vulnerable to the pressure of overfishing.
These traits include late sexual maturity, large and predictable spawning aggregations in shallow inshore waters, and strong refuge site fidelity. Unfortunately, these habitat types are frequently lost to development or are degraded due to a variety of natural and human-induced factors.
For example, found approximately two hours north of Ten A Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Tampa Bay is one of the largest ports in the United States. It is estimated that over the past 100 years the area has lost over 44% of its mangroves and salt marshes due to heavy human development and traffic.
Coral reefs are susceptible to degradation through natural factors including hurricanes, El Niño events, and diseases. Reefs are also degraded through human action such as overfishing, damaging fishing practices, development, pollution, ocean acidification, and irresponsible tourism.
Once abundant and growing to massive, reproductively mature sizes, goliathgrouper have suffered significant population declines attributed to overfishing and habitat loss. While the species is showing clear signs of recovery in South Florida, the true status of the population remains uncertain.
Based on recovery trends throughout the past decade, goliathgrouper are no longer classified as a species of concern in U.S. waters. With uncertain population dynamics, the harvest moratorium for this species remains in place and goliathgrouper are considered endangered in global waters by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Joshua David Anyzeski, 18, was jailed Monday after state fish and wildlife officers said he removed a Goliath grouper from the water, so he could pose for a photo with it. He was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of possession of a Goliath grouper, booked into the Stock Island Detention Center and released the same day after posting a $7,500 bond.
A Key West college student got arrested after sharing this photo with friends in a group text. “The lagoon is a classroom space where we teach diving and marine science classes,” said Amber Ernst-Leonard, the college’s spokeswoman.
Anyzeski got in trouble after sending the photo of him holding the Goliath grouper to friends in a group text to brag about snagging the fish, according to the report. On Aug. 28, FCC investigators went to Anyzeski’s dorm room at the College of the Florida Keys to speak with him about the photo.
Asked if Anyzeski is in trouble with the school for the catch, Ernst-Leonard said the college does not comment on student disciplinary cases. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Goliath grouper occupies a wide geographic range, from Florida, including the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas, and Caribbean Sea, south to Brazil. It is also found in both the eastern Pacific and eastern Atlantic from Senegal to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; however, it is rare in the Canary Islands.
Based on a study done by Craig et al. (2009), results suggest that there are genetic differences between populations of goliathgrouper in U.S. waters and those near Belize and Brazil. This species of grouper tends to be easily recognizable, in part, because it is the largest grouper species in western Atlantic waters.
Its body is brownish yellow, gray or olive colored with irregular dark bars on its sides and small spots mostly on its head and fins. The goliathgrouper has a very broad head with small eyes; the spiny dorsal fin is very low, and much shorter than the second dorsal fin.
Juveniles are a yellowish-orange color with dark irregular vertical bands and blotches on their sides. The adult goliathgrouper lives in shallow waters up to 328 feet (100 meters) 6, over wrecks, corals or muddy or rocky bottoms.
This is one of the few grouper species also found in brackish water habitats. Adults are territorial and occupy limited home ranges.
Juvenile and young-adult fish can be found around estuaries mangroves and oyster bars. The typical spawning season is June through October; peak spawning within the Gulf of Mexico occurs from July through September.
5 There is still some debate whether this fish transitions from female to male as there appears to be a lack of conclusive evidence that this species is a protogynous hermaphrodite. Cryptic genetic divergence in a threatened marine fish and the resurrection of a geopolitical species.
Age, growth, and reproduction of Jewish Epimetheus Ithaca in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. IFA All Tackle Record, Fernanda Beach, FL Obama, S., B. Eris man, W. Haman, C. Biggs, N. Farmer, S. Lowerre-Barbieri, M. Karnataka, and J. Brenner.
Cooperative monitoring program for spawning aggregations in the Gulf of Mexico: data portal. 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. 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.
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.
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). Mercury and histopathology of the vulnerable goliathgrouper, Epimetheus Tamara, in U.S. waters: A multi-tissue approach.
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. Assessing Fishing Experts’ Knowledge to Improve Conservation Strategies for an Endangered Grouper in the Southwestern Atlantic.
GoliathGrouper have some of the highest measured mercury levels of any grouper species in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, so we are trying to understand patterns of accumulation, including where they are getting it from and how they are impacted. Details of the research trip: The Ten A Thousand Islands is a beautiful region of Florida, containing shorelines with relatively expansive and healthy mangroves, which provide essential nursery habitat for juvenileGoliathGrouper and many other fish species.
Our sampling methods are non-lethal, which is critical for research on a protected species of conservation concern, and because we are able to obtain important mark-recapture data. More importantly for the objectives of this heavy metal study was that two of these fish were individuals I had sampled last year for mercury toxicity.
Overall, between adults and juveniles, I now have about 15 individual fish that I have recaptured and sampled for mercury toxicity multiple times from one year to the next. The first one we caught really got our hearts pounding because we could see the mangrove limb, that the set line was attached to, from hundreds of feet away violently bouncing up and down.
Once we motored up to the line and realized it was a bull shark, we quickly cut the hook out of its mouth to set it free. We had one very large and curious loggerhead sea turtle following us around and coming right up to the boat to check us out for an entire day of fishing.
While the rest of Florida gets ready for school to begin, divers get ready for Goliath season!” Each year, between August and September, Goliath groupers migrate in by the hundreds to spawn around the wrecks and reefs surrounding Palm Beach County. And every fall, divers also flock to Palm Beach County to take the plunge, cameras in hand, to capture images of these behemoth fish.
Growing up to 8 feet long and weighing about 400 pounds, Goliath groupers are the gentle giants of the sea. 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. A long recovery time is expected as these fish exhibit slow growth rates.
Pure Vida Divers hosts several dives weekly to see these amazing fish up close and personal. To participate in dive charters for Goliath groupers, contact Pure Vida through their website at www.puravidadivers.com.