Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara)

Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara)

The largest grouper and a member of the Serranidae family, the goliath grouper is an important gamefish and an excellent food fish.

Identification

The goliath grouper is yellowish-brown to olive green or brown. Dark brown blotches and blackish spots mottle the entire body, including the head and the fins; these markings are variable and are more prominent on the young. Irregular dark bands run vertically along the sides, although these are usually obscure.

The body becomes darker with age, as the blotches and spots increase and become less noticeable in contrast to the body. The first dorsal fin is shorter than, and not separated from, the second dorsal fin. The goliath grouper is differentiated from the giant sea bass by its dorsal fin soft rays, of which it has 15 to 16; the giant sea bass has only 10.


Distinctive features also include very small eyes, a rounded tail fin, and large rounded pectoral fins. Specimens smaller than 11⁄2 feet long bear a strong resemblance to spotted cabrilla but can be distinguished by the number of dorsal spines, of which the goliath grouper has 11 and the spotted cabrilla 10.

Size/Age

Goliath grouper can reach 8 feet in length and 700 pounds in weight. Although the average fish weighs roughly 20 pounds, weights of 100 pounds are not unusual, nor are 4- to 6-foot lengths. The all-tackle world record is a 680-pounder. They have been known to live for 30 to 50 years.

Life history/Behavior

There is some indication that the goliath grouper starts out as a female and undergoes a sex change later in life, as occurs in certain grouper. Spawning takes place over the summer months.

Food and feeding habits

A sluggish but opportunistic feeder, the goliath grouper feeds chiefly on crustaceans, especially spiny lobsters, as well as on turtles, fish, and stingrays.

Other Names

jewfish, spotted jewfish, southern jewfish, junefish, Florida jewfish, esonue grouper; Fon (spoken in Benin): tokokogbo; French: mérou géant; Portuguese: garoupa, mero; Spanish: cherna, cherne, mero, guasa, meroguasa.

Distribution

In the western Atlantic, goliath grouper occur from Florida to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, although they are rare in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. In the eastern Pacific, goliath grouper occur from the central Gulf of California to Peru.

Habitat

Goliath grouper inhabit inshore waters and are usually found in shallow water at depths between 10 and 100 feet. They prefer rocky bottoms, reefs, ledges, dock and bridge pilings, and wrecks, where they can find refuge in caves and holes.
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