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Atlantic goliath grouper
The Atlantic goliath grouper or itajara (Epinephelus itajara), formerly and still commonly referred to as the jewfish, is a large saltwater fish of the grouper family found primarily in shallow tropical waters among coral and artificial reefs at depths from 5 to 50 m (16 to 160 ft). Its range includes the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean, and practically all of the Brazilian coast as well as in Azores, where they are known as mero. On some occasions, it is caught in New England off Maine and Massachusetts. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, it occurs from Congo to Senegal.
They may reach extremely large sizes, growing to lengths of up to 3 m and can weigh as much as 360 kg (790 lb). The world record for a hook and line-captured specimen is 309 kg (681 lb), caught off Fernandina Beach, Florida, in 1961. They are usually around 180 kg when mature. Considered of fine food quality, Atlantic goliath grouper were a highly sought-after quarry for fishermen. The grouper's inquisitive and generally fearless nature makes it a relatively easy prey for spear fishermen. They also tend to spawn in large aggregations, returning like clockwork to the same locations, making them particularly vulnerable to mass harvesting.
Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is entirely protected from harvest and is recognized as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The US began protection in 1990, and the Caribbean in 1993. The species' population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish's slow growth rate, however, it will take some time for populations to return to their previous levels. Many conservationists are concerned that size-selective harvesting (seeking large fish and throwing back the small ones) may have inadvertently selected for smaller size, and fish of the size encountered so often in the mid-20th century may be lost forever.
Goliath groupers are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites, with individuals first maturing as females and only some large adults becoming males. Most grouper follow this pattern, but it has not yet been verified for the goliath. In fact, Bullock et al. found males could be sexually mature at smaller sizes (~1150 mm) and younger ages (4–6 years) than females (~1225 mm and ~6–8 years).
Before 2001, the common name of the goliath grouper was jewfish but was changed by the American Fisheries Society due to the potentially offensive nature of the name.
- "Epinephelus itajara". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2007. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2006. Retrieved 11 May 2006. Database entry includes a range map and a lengthy justification of why this species is critically endangered
- IGFA World Records
- "FLMNH Ichthyology Department: Goliath Grouper". Flmnh.ufl.edu. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
- Bullock et al. (1992) Age, Growth and Reproduction in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico U.S. Fishery Bulletin 90(2):243-249 retrieved April 8, 2008 from http://myfwc.com/Marine/grouper/goliath_grouper/reports.htm[dead link]
- The St. Petersburg Times, May 24, 2001, Mike Brassfield, Big fish to get a giant name