Red Hind

red-hindThe Red Hind (Epinephelus guttatus) is a common grouper in the reefs of all six Dutch Caribbean islands. While it can be found all the way down to 50 meters, it tends to prefer shallow parts of the reef and rocky areas. There, it spends all day resting or swimming slowly, only to become active at dusk and dawn to look for food, mostly fish, squid, crabs and shrimp. It hides in holes and ambushes its prey, lunging at it, then seizes it with its sharp teeth. The prey is then sucked in and swallowed whole. Most groupers use this suction technique; a powerful suction force is created when they open their characteristically large mouth.

With a name like Red Hind, one would expect this species of grouper to be red in color. However, Red Hinds vary greatly in color, and while some individuals have a reddish body color, many are either pinkish or greenish-grey. The underparts are always paler. Their body and fins are covered with orange-red to dark-brown spots; these spots enable red hinds to camouflage themselves when ambushing their prey. Unlike its close relative the Rock Hind (Epinephelus adscensionis), the Red Hind has no dark splotches on its tail or dorsal fin; the dorsal anal fins have a broad black margin.

Saba Bank coralA fascinating fact about the Red Hind is that, like other members of its family, it can change its sex (the correct term for this is protogynous hermaphrodite). Red Hinds are born female, and at some point usually change into males. This is why larger fish are typically male. They reach sexual maturity at 3 years old, after which these usually solitary groupers gather in large spawning aggregations to breed. These aggregations last approximately two weeks, and are typically in January or February. Females stay close to the ocean floor, while males swim around their territory, which is made up of one to five females. Each female releases 90,000 to 3 million eggs in the water column at the same time as the male releases sperm. Once fertilized, the eggs drift in the sea and hatch after 27 days, eventually settling onto the ocean floor into “nurseries”.

The breeding habits of the Red Hind unfortunately make it very vulnerable to exploitation. Once fishermen figure out the timing and location of these aggregations, they can easily go to the area and catch a large amount of fish, causing much damage to the population. Within the Caribbean region, measures have been taken to protect the Red Hind during these events. Spawning aggregations are protected in certain areas, either seasonally or year-round, to ensure that fishermen cannot exploit these groupers at a crucial time for their reproduction. In St. Thomas and Bermuda, spawning aggregations are closed permanently. In St. Croix, they are closed seasonally. Research has shown that these closures are having a positive impact on Red Hind populations, with an increase in annual catch and an increase in the size of individual fish.

Saba recently adopted such a conservation strategy to protect its population of Red Hind. Since December 2013, the spawning aggregation site on the Moon Fish Bank (northeastern corner of the Saba Bank) is closed for three months every year (December to February). The seasonal closure was done at the request of, and in close collaboration with the fishermen, who realize that this closure will benefit them in the long run. The total fishing ban will allow Saba’s Red Hind fish stock to be replenished, thereby ensuring that the Red Hind fishery is sustainable.

Find out more about the seasonal closure of the Moon Fish Bank spawning aggregation site here: Red Hind Spawning Site Closed