The imposing Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is also known as a Jewfish or Giant Seabass. It is the largest of all groupers; in fact it is the largest member of the seabass family. It can measure up to 2.5 meters long and weigh up to 360 kilos. It has a typical grouper body shape with a robust, elongated body, a broad head with small eyes and big lips, and rounded fins. The overall color of its body is yellow-brown to olive-green; this color can darken or lighten depending on the grouper’s mood and surrounding. As can be expected, the Goliath Grouper has a voracious appetite and eats a wide variety of marine animals, including crabs, fish, young sea turtles and octopus. It seizes prey with its sharp teeth or draws prey in by using the powerful suction force that is created when it opens its large mouth. Most prey is swallowed whole.
The range of the Goliath Grouper encompasses the Western Atlantic (from Florida to Brazil, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico), the Eastern Atlantic (from Senegal to Congo) and the eastern Pacific (from the Gulf of California to Peru). Sadly, this grouper is very rare now; it is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List because its population has been reduced by more than 80% over the past three generation. Goliath groupers have been fished both commercially and recreationally since the late 1800s; their flesh is said to be of very high quality. Over-fishing intensified in the second half of the 20th century, which had devastating consequences for their population. Goliath Groupers are especially vulnerable to over-fishing because they have a slow growth rate and reproduce late. Males begin to breed at 4 to 6 years of age, females at 6 to 7 years of age. Thankfully, the Goliath Grouper has received protection in US waters since 1990 and the Caribbean since 1993. While there are some signs of recovery, it will take some time before the population of the Goliath Grouper can once again be called healthy.
Sources: Arkive FishBase Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Florida Museum of Natural History – Ichthyology IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Marine Species Identification Portal Scientific Electronic Library Online – SciELO