Gag (Mycteroperca microlepis)

Gag (Mycteroperca microlepis)

Gags belong to the branch of the grouper family that is characterized by a long, compressed body and 11 to 14 rays in the anal fin. Gags have white, flaky flesh that makes excellent eating, although, like other grouper, they have deeply embedded scales that are virtually impossible to remove.


Pale to dark gray or sometimes olive gray, the larger gag is darker than the smaller gag and has blotchy markings on its side and an overall indistinctly marbled appearance. The smaller gag is paler and has many dark brown or charcoal marks along its sides. The pelvic, the anal, and the caudal fins are blackish, with blue or white edges. The gag is distinguished from the black grouper by its deeply notched preopercles and is distinguished from the otherwise similar scamp by the absence of extended caudal rays.


The gag weighs less than 3 pounds on average but may reach a weight of 55 pounds (about 51 inches in length). It can live for at least 15 years.

Spawning behavior

Gags reach sexual maturity when 27 to 30 inches long or 5 to 6 years of age, spawning off the Carolinas in February, and from January through March in the Gulf of Mexico. The female may lay more than a million pelagic eggs.


Gags feed on such fish as sardines, porgies, snapper, and grunts, as well as on crabs, shrimp, and squid; young that are less than 20 centimeters feed mainly on crustaceans found in shallow grassbeds.

Other Names

charcoal belly; French: badèche baillou; Portuguese: badejo-daareia; Spanish: cuna aguají.


In the western Atlantic, gags are found from North Carolina (sometimes as far north as Massachusetts) to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, although they are rare in Bermuda and absent from the Caribbean and the Bahamas; they are also reported along Brazil. They are the most common grouper on rocky ledges in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.


Young gags inhabit estuaries and seagrass beds, whereas adults are usually found offshore around rocky ledges, undercuts, reefs, and occasionally inshore over rocky or grassy bottoms. Adults may be solitary or may occur in groups of 5 to 50 individuals.