Atlantic Goliath Grouper
The Atlantic Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara) or Itajara, is a species of saltwater fish of the grouper family. The Goliath Grouper is found primarily in shallow tropical waters among coral and artificial reefs at depths of up to 165 feet. Its range includes the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean, and practically all of the Brazilian coast. In Brazil it is known as mero. Although not common, it can be caught off the New England coast in Maine and Massachusetts. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, it occurs from Congo to Senegal. Young grouper may live in brackish estuaries, canals and mangrove swamps, unusual behavior among grouper.
The Atlantic Goliath Grouper was known as the Jewfish until 2001 when the American Fisheries Society decided to change the name to the more considerate “Goliath Grouper”. It is a cousin to the Pacific Goliath Grouper.
This fish is capable of growing to lengths of 8 feet 2 inches and weighing as much as 800 pounds. Most Goliath Grouper are around 400 pounds at maturity. These fish were considered of food of fine quality and were mass harvested for many years. This harvesting brought the species to the brink of extinction until the U.S. and Caribbean began protecting it in the early 1990s. The IUCN currently lists the goliath grouper as Critically Endangered. Since the fishing ban, the species have been recovering, although slowly, due to the fish’s slow growth rate.
Goliath Grouper feed on crustaceans, octopuses, young sea turtles, and other fish. Grouper are preyed upon by large fish such as barracuda, moray eels and sharks. Goliath Grouper are born and mature as females and then only some large adults become males. Though most grouper follow this pattern, it is not completely verified for the Goliath.