About The Species
U.S. wild-caught black grouper is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level in the Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic.
At recommended levels.
Fishing gears used to harvest black grouper have minimal impacts on habitat.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- There are two stocks of black grouper: Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic and Caribbean. According to the most recent stock assessments:
- The Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic stock is not overfished (2010 stock assessment), and is not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- In the Caribbean, black grouper is part of the Caribbean groupers complex and is not assessed so the overfished status is unknown. The groupers complex is not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data.
- Black grouper have an olive or gray body, with black blotches and brassy spots.
- Their cheeks are gently rounded.
- Black grouper grow up to five feet long and can weigh up to 180 pounds.
- They can live up to 30 years old.
- They begin life as a female and some change into males as they grow – usually between two and four feet in length or 11 and 14 years old.
- The overall sex ratio is generally one male for every four females.
- Black grouper are solitary fish until spawning season, May through August, where they aggregate and spawn in huge numbers.
- Eggs are fertilized externally, and float with the currents.
- Young black grouper feed on crustaceans, mostly shrimp.
- Adults feed on other fish and squid.
- Black grouper have large, powerful jaws that they use to ambush their prey.
- They do not have teeth, and instead use their mouth and gills to suck up their prey.
- They also have teeth plates inside their throat that prevent prey from escaping after being swallowed.
- Black grouper take advantage of other species’ reproductive aggregations for feeding.
- Sharks prey upon large black grouper, while other grouper and moray eels prey upon smaller ones.
Where They Live
- Black grouper are found in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Brazil.
- They are particularly associated with the southern Gulf of Mexico, Florida Keys, Cuba, the Bahamas, and throughout the Caribbean.
- The US stock primarily occurs in the Florida Keys.
- NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Fishery Management Councils manage the black grouper fishery:
- In the South Atlantic, managed under the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan:
- Commercial fishermen must have a permit to fish, land, or sell black grouper. Managers limit the number of available permits to control the number of fishermen harvesting black grouper.
- Annual catch limits are used for black grouper in the commercial and recreational fisheries. These fisheries are closed when their annual catch limit is projected to be met.
- Both the commercial and recreational fisheries have size limits to reduce harvest of immature black grouper.
- The commercial and recreational fishing seasons are closed from January through April to protect black grouper during their peak spawning period.
- Gear restrictions are used to reduce bycatch and protect habitat.
- There are eight deep-water marine protected areas and several spawning special management zones to protect habitats. The Oculina Experimental Closed Area is closed to fishing for and possession of all snappers and groupers to protect deepwater coral habitat and the reef fish it supports.
- In the Gulf of Mexico, managed under the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan:
- Commercial vessels must have a reef fish permit and individual fishing quota (IFQ) allocation to harvest black grouper.
- Black grouper is part of the Other Shallow-Water Grouper catch share category in the IFQ program.
- The annual catch limit is allocated between the commercial (76 percent) and recreational (24 percent) fisheries.
- The IFQ program (catch shares) allocates the commercial catch limit among shareholders with measures to prevent fishermen from harvesting more than their individual allocation.
- To reduce bycatch, there are restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish.
- Minimum size limits protect immature black grouper.
- Year-round and/or seasonal area closures for commercial and recreational sectors to protect spawning groupers.
- Commercial data reporting requirements.
- In the U.S. Caribbean, managed under the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan:
- Annual catch limits. All groupers are managed as a single block throughout the U.S. Caribbean. Groupers are managed separately by commercial and recreational sector in Puerto Rico.
- Seasonal closure for black, red, tiger, yellowfin, and yellowedge groupers from February 1 through April 30.