Chances are, you’ve chowed down on a grouper sandwich before. We can’t deny that grouper is delicious! Though there are many different species of grouper, not all are a “good catch”. Goliath grouper, in particular, are more significantly important being in the wild than being on your plate.
Goliath grouper are the largest of the Atlantic groupers. We’re talking “size of a smart car” large! Reaching 800 pounds and 8 feet long, they’re quite a sight to see, especially since these guys are slow-moving. However, their unique biology have made them highly vulnerable to pressure from commercial and recreational fishing and has led to its status as an endangered species.
You see, goliath grouper are what we call “apex predators,” meaning they are at the top of the food chain and help balance populations below them. Goliath grouper are solitary, preferring just their own company. They roam through reefs alone and practice ambush feeding when hunger strikes. Their large mouths and sheer strength allow them to swallow their prey whole. Top species on their menu include barracudas, crustaceans and even some sharks!
Since 1990, the goliath grouper fishery has been closed to harvest throughout the southeast region of the United States. Because of their status as apex predators, they’re fundamental in helping to maintain a balanced ocean. Reefs with large numbers of predators, like goliath grouper, are known to be healthier than reefs with no predators, so this species may represent an important part of the reef food web.
Goliath grouper aren’t just beneficial for the environment – they’re beneficial for the tourism industry! Every year off the coast of Florida, goliath grouper congregate in groups of 100 or more to spawn. Divers from around the world travel to observe this phenomenon underwater.
For these reasons and more, it’s clear that seeing goliath grouper underwater is far more beneficial than seeing them on the dinner table. And though they are now listed as vulnerable rather than endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, their fishery is still closed to harvest and continues to be at risk from poaching, habitat destruction, and other environmental impacts.
If you see grouper on the menu, clarify what species it is before you order. If it’s not local, you can always sneak a peek at our What’s in Season chart and check out some different seafood options to make sure you’re getting a “good catch!”
If you want to get up close and personal with this species and aren’t dive-certified – no worries! A visit to the Aquarium will put you face-to-face with our resident goliath grouper, Mel.