The goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is a large fish that inhabits tropical and subtropical waters. It can be found in the eastern Pacific, western Atlantic, and eastern Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Brazil, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico usually in shallow reefs and along structures such as oyster beds, mangroves, rock and coral reefs and artificial reefs like oil rigs. Goliath groupers are unlike most members of the grouper family because they can be found in brackish water. Prior to 1990, the goliath grouper was recreationally and commercially fished. However, overfishing and environmental factors caused a decline in the population. The goliath grouper is listed as critically endangered
on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is now a federally protected species. The goliath grouper was formerly known as the Jewfish until 2001 when the American Fisheries Society (AFS) determined that the name was
culturally insensitive and adopted the name that is used today.
Adult goliath groupers have small spots in the fins, body and head and are typically olive, gray or brownish yellow in color. Goliath groupers are opportunistic ambush predators that feed on a variety of food items. This grouper primarily feeds on crustaceans such as
crabs, shrimp and spiny lobster. Other prey items include octopus, juvenile sea turtles, gastropods, and a variety of fish such as hardhead catfish, stingray and parrotfish.
The goliath grouper is the second largest member of the grouper family and one of the largest reef fish on earth. An adult goliath grouper can weigh as much as 800 pounds and reach 8.2 feet in length. These fish can live more than 35 years and are slow growers. On average they grow approximately four inches per year until age six, then growth declines sharply to 1.2 inches per year until age 15 and down to 0.4 inches per year after age 25. Due to their slow growth rate, they take several years to reach sexual maturity. Males are considered sexually mature when they have reached a total length of 45.5 inches and are over seven years old, while females reach sexual maturity when they reach a length of 48.2 inches and are at least six years old.
It is believed that goliath grouper are making a comeback, but data is needed before any changes can be made to regulations and management. Due to this believed increase, Florida Sea Grant and Florida Fish and Wildlife have been hosting the Great Goliath Grouper Count (GGGC) since 2010. During this event every spring, volunteer divers go out and collect abundance and size data on any goliath grouper they encounter. This information has been helpful for management to understand if goliath grouper are making a comeback.
Louisiana Sea Grant is partnering with Florida Sea Grant to collect their own goliath grouper sightings. Off Louisiana, goliath grouper are most likely to be found on artificial reef structure like the oil rigs. Louisiana waters are warm enough for these amazing fish to show up in the warmer months. We expect that they might be spotted during spear diving, research, recreational diving or even shrimping activities. If you have ever seen a goliath grouper off the coast of Louisiana (state or federal waters), please let us know. You can report your sighting at http://tinyurl.com/Ggrouper or call (225) 578-0771.
– Tom Aepelbacher & Julie Lively
For more information on the Great Goliath Grouper Count, please visit