The GOLIATH GROUPER is the largest of the western north Atlantic groupers! This massive fish, also called a jewfish, can reach up to 800 pounds and over 8 feet in length! They have yellow/brown mottling with black dots on the head, body, and fins. Goliath grouper are opportunistic predators that feed on mostly slow-moving, bottom-associated species. They have been known to feed on fish struggling on fishing line, how sneaky and savvy! Epinephelus itajara use their huge mouths to suck in and swallow prey whole. They are known to live to be at least 37 years old, but some scientists say that these fish may have the ability to live over 50 or even 100 years old. With a slow growth rater, they do not reach the age of maturity around 5 or 6 years old for males and around 6 or 7 for females.
Epinephelus itajara populations dramatically declined during the 1970s and 1980s due to increased fishing pressure from recreational and commercial fishers and divers. Harvest and possession has been prohibited in both state and federal waters since 1990 in order to protect and ensure continued health for the species. Since this prohibition, goliath grouper populations have substantially recovered, but it unclear as to when the species may fully recover enough for the restrictions to be lifted.
On Friday, May 20th, 2016, we had the AMAZING opportunity to witness not just one, but THREE goliath grouper off of Loou Key, FL. They were all very docile and just hanging out under the boat and let off of us snorkelers snap our pictures. These fish blow my mind, how huge they are and calm and close they got to so many humans! Here are some pictures Jenna Martin took!
These three goliath grouper were relatively small compared to how big they can be! They were around 3-4 feet in length. I was able to get so close, but I was a little nervous to experience their aggressive body language and their defensive mechanism (the boom they make with their swim bladders that shakes your whole body if they do it!)