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The Goliath Grouper fish identification, habitats, characteristics, Fishing methods

The Atlantic goliath grouper or Itajara is a large saltwater fish of the grouper family. The genus name comes from the Greek epinephelos translated as cloudy. The species is found primarily in shallow tropical waters among coral and artificial reefs at depths of up to 165 feet (50 m). Their range includes the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean, and practically the entire Brazilian coast, where they are known as mero. Young grouper may live in brackish estuaries, canals and mangrove swamps, unusual behavior among grouper. The goliath grouper is the largest grouper in the western Atlantic. Growing to lengths of 8.2 feet (2.5 m), this grouper can weigh as much as 800 pounds (363 kg).

The Goliath Grouper Fishing Goliath grouper, Epinephelus itajara, also known as Jewfish, Blackbass, Esonue Grouper, Giant Seabass, Grouper, Hamlet, Southern Jewfish, and Spotted Jewfish, is a deep water reef associated fish, widely distributed in tropical and subtropical waters of Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans. They occur from Florida and Gulf of Mexico to southern Brazil, including most of the West Indies and the Caribbean Sea, from Senegal to the Congo, from Gulf of California to Peru. On some occasions it is caught in New England off Maine and Massachusetts.

Goliath grouper are the largest members of the sea bass family in the Atlantic Ocean. The body is robust and elongate; its widest point is more than half its total length, which is less than head length (in fish 15 to 160 cm). The head is extremely broad with small eyes; its diameter is 5 to 9 times in head length for smaller fish (10 to 30 cm) and 12 times in head of larger (160 cm) fish. The dorsal fins are continuous with the rays of the soft dorsal longer than the spines of the first dorsal fin. The membranes between the dorsal fin elements are notched. Pectoral and Caudal fins are rounded and noticeably larger than the pelvic fins. Bases of the soft dorsal and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin. The caudal fin is rounded. Interorbital is flat and very wide, its width equals eye diameter in smaller species and greater than eye diameter in fish larger than 18 to 30 cm, Maxilla is reaching well past eye.
    Goliath grouper have 3 to 5 rows of teeth in the lower jaw. The presence of a number of short weakly developed canine teeth is useful in distinguishing this species from other North Atlantic groupers. Head and fins covered with small black spots. Irregular dark and vertical bars present on the sides of body. First dorsal fin is shorter than and not separated from second dorsal. Dorsal fin's 3rd to 11th spines subequal and distinctly shorter than longest dorsal rays.

  • Dorsal fin has 11 spines and 15 or 16 soft rays.
  • Anal fin has 3 spines and 8 soft rays.
  • Pctoral fins have 18 or 19 rays.
  • Lateral scale series 89 to 110.
  • Lateral-line scales 61 to 64.
  • Maximum total length is 8.2 ft (2.5 m).
  • Maximum weight at least 800 lbs (400 kg).
  • Gill rakers on first arch are 21 to 24.
    (8 or 9 on upper limb, 13 to 15 on lower limb).
  • The Fish Diagram

        This fish is generally brownish yellow, gray, or olive greenish with small dark spots on head, body, and fins. Large adults are darker and more uniformly colored. 3 or 4 irregular pale vertical bars are present of the sides of individuals less than 3 feet (1m) in length. The rear half of the caudal penduncle of these small individuals is covered by another similar bar. The tawny colored juveniles, although not as colorful as some grouper species, are attractively patterned; exhibiting a series of dark, irregular, vertical bands and blotches.

    Large adults often found in shallow water, and also offshore on wrecks and in areas of high relief; juveniles are common in mangrove swamps and both juveniles and adults occur in bays and harbors. Occurring in shallow, inshore waters to depths of 150 feet (46 m), the goliath grouper prefers areas of rock, coral, and mud bottoms, often around docks, in deep holes, and on ledges. Strikingly patterned juveniles inhabit mangroves and brackish estuaries, especially near oyster bars. The goliath grouper is notable as one of the few groupers found in brackish waters.
        This fish is solitary by nature, with the adults occupying limited home ranges with little inter-reef movement, and the same individuals were seen at specific reef sites for more than a year. It is territorial near areas of refuge such as caves, wrecks, and ledges, displaying an open mouth and quivering body to intruders. Additional warning may be delivered in the form of the goliath grouper's ability to produce a distinctly audible rumbling sound generated by the muscular contraction of the swim bladder. This sound travels great distances underwater and is also used to locate other goliath grouper.
        Goliath grouper feed largely on crustaceans (in particular spiny lobsters, shrimps and crabs), fishes (including stingrays and parrot-fishes), octopus, and young sea turtles. Prey is ambushed, caught with a quick rush and snap of the jaws. The sharp teeth are adapted for seizing prey and preventing escape although most prey is simply engulfed and swallowed whole.

    Many groupers are protogynous hermaphrodites, with individuals first maturing as females and only some large adults becoming males. The size at sex reversal may vary amongst populations. Some females may transition to the male condition prematurely; they never attain sexual maturity as a female. Unlike most other groupers, there is no evidence for hermaphroditism of goliath grouper.
        Males sexual mature at 4 to 6 years of age and lengths of 43-45 inches (110-115 cm), females at 6 to 7 years of age and 47-53 inches (120-135 cm). Spawning occurs during the summer months of July, August, and September throughout the goliath grouper's range and is strongly influenced by the lunar cycle. Spawning goliath grouper form large offshore aggregations of up to 100 or more individuals returning like clockwork to the same locations making them particularly vulnerable to mass harvesting. Ship wrecks, rock ledges, and isolated patch reefs are preferred spawning habitat.
        The females release eggs while the males release sperm into the open offshore waters. After fertilization, the eggs are pelagic, separate by the water currents. Upon hatching, the larvae are kite-shaped, with the second dorsal-fin spine and pelvic fin spines greatly elongated. These pelagic larvae transform into benthic juveniles at lengths of 1 inch (2.5 cm), around 25 or 26 days after hatching. Growth rates are slow, averaging approximately 4 inches (10 cm) per year until the age of 6 years. Growth declines to about 1.2 inches (3 cm) per year at age 15, and less than .4 inches (1 cm) per year after 25 years.

    Fishing Methods. Considered of fine food quality, the goliath grouper were a highly sought after quarry for fishermen of all types. The goliath grouper's inquisitive and generally fearless nature makes it a relatively easy prey for spear fishermen. The species has been caught primarily by hook and line, traps, and trawls.
        Goliath grouper are excellent quality food fish. The white, flaky fillets may be baked, broiled, basted over charcoal, or prepared in fish chowder. The bones are large and easily discarded.

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