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The goliath grouper is the largest member of the sea bass family. Its body is large and stocky, measuring half as wide as it is long. The head is broad with small eyes and the pectoral fins and tail fins are rounded. The first and soft dorsal fins are joined together along the back of the fish, and the bases of the first dorsal fin and anal fins are covered with scales and thick skin. Goliath groupers are dull green, grey, or dark yellow to brown, with small dark spots on the head, body and fins. Smaller individuals of less than one metre long are more decorative, with three or four faint vertical bars on their sides. Juveniles are tawny-coloured with dark banding and blotching. This predatory fish has several rows of small teeth in the jaw and small pharyngeal teeth (3) (4).
Western Atlantic: Florida, USA to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Eastern Atlantic: Senegal to Congo. Eastern Pacific (Gulf of California to Peru) species refers to Epinephelus quinquefasciatus. Discrete populations of E. itajara exist in the western Atlantic.
Found from inshore to about 100 m in reef, mangrove, seagrass, and estuarine habitats (Sadovy and Eklund 1999).
Juveniles live in shallow bays, holes, below undercut ledges in swift tidal creeks draining mangrove swamp, rivers and estuaries while adults live around structures in, near, and offshore (Bullock et al. 1992, Gerber et al. 2005, Koenig et al. 2007). Juveniles exhibit high site fidelity to mangrove habitat for 5-6 years, then emigrate to offshore reefs at body length of about 1 m TL (Koenig et al. 2007).
Juvenile distribution in mangroves depends on local water quality, particularly dissolved oxygen content (>4 ppm) and mid-range salinities (>10 ppt) (www.bio.fsu.edu/coleman_lab/goliath_grouper.html, accessed on 31st Dec 2005).
During a survey of the freshwater fish of southern Florida from 1976 to 1983, no E. itajara was collected although the salinity-tolerant juveniles could be found in shallow, costal waters (Loftus and Kushlan 1987). In 181 sites, presence of mangrove areas appears to be important for juveniles (Sadovy and Eklund 1999). Koenig et al. (2007) demonstrated the high nursery value of mangrove to juveniles.
Epinephelus quinquefasciatus is suspected to have undergone severe population reductions over the past three decades due to intense fishing pressure in the region. However, landings data across its range are often lumped into a single category “Groupers”. Therefore, species specific trends are generally not discernable. In addition, there is a general lack of fishery independent data for species abundance. It is likely that this species shares life-history characteristics with its sister species, E. itajara (Atlantic Goliath Grouper), which make it vulnerable to intense fishing pressure. In the absence of sufficient specific information regarding population declines, and in the presence of the threat of overfishing, this species is listed as Data Deficient
Fishing pressure is the main threat to E. quinquefasciatus throughout its range. Any large, approachable, edible fish on the shorelines throughout the species range is vulnerable to the heavily populated areas lining its distribution with a high abundance of subsistence fishers. Thus, this species inevitably represents a highly desirable target, whether directly targeted or taken opportunistically. This species was reported to be a prime target of commercial and recreational spearfishers in the Gulf of California during the 1970s-1990s, which is believed to have contributed to its demise in the region (Sala et al. 2004, B. Erisman pers obs.).
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