About The Species
U.S. wild-caught gag 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. Near target level and fishing rate promotes population growth in the South Atlantic.
At recommended levels.
Fishing gear used to harvest gag has minimal impacts on habitat.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
There are two stocks of gag: South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. According to the most recent stock assessments:
The South Atlantic stock is not overfished (2014 stock assessment) and is not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
The Gulf of Mexico stock is not overfished (2016 stock assessment) and is not subject to overfishing based on 2018 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART. This stock had been overfished and was successfully rebuilt in 2014.
- Gag have long, compressed bodies.
- Their coloring varies with their size. Large gag are dark brownish-gray above and paler below, with traces of dark wavy markings on the sides. Smaller fish are much lighter and have dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along their sides.
- Gag’s scientific species name, microlepis, is derived from the Greek words “micro” for small and “lepis” meaning scale, in reference to the small scales of this fish.
- Gag grow slowly, can reach more than 3 feet in length, and weigh up to 50 pounds.
- They can live as long as 30 years.
- They are protogynous hermaphrodites – they begin life as females and sexually mature around age 4. As they grow older, they change to males, around age 8.
- They spawn from mid-January to early May in the South Atlantic and from late January to mid-April in the Gulf of Mexico. Gag spawn in large groups along the continental shelf. Females spawn multiple times per season, releasing between 60,000 and 1.7 million eggs each time they spawn.
- They eat a variety of fish, crabs, shrimp, and squid.
- Adult gag and large fish prey on juvenile gag.
- Sharks and other large fish prey on adult gag.
Where They Live
- Gag are found in the western Atlantic, primarily from North Carolina to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, including the Gulf of Mexico.
- NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils manage the gag fishery.
- In the South Atlantic, managed under the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan:
- Annual catch limit allocated between the commercial (51 percent) and recreational (49 percent) fisheries.
- Commercial fishermen must have a limited access permit to fish, land, or sell snapper and grouper species. Managers limit the number of available permits to control the number of fishermen harvesting these species.
- A minimum size limit to prevent harvest of immature gag.
- A number of gear requirements and restrictions help reduce bycatch and protect habitat.
- Both the commercial and recreational fishing seasons are closed from January through April to protect all shallow-water grouper during their spawning season.
- Recreational fishermen have a bag limit and commercial fishermen have a trip limit.
- Eight marine protected areas closed to fishing for and possession of snapper and grouper to protect a portion of the population and habitat of long-lived deep-water species.
- In the Gulf of Mexico, managed under the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan:
- Annual catch limit allocated between the commercial (39 percent) and recreational (61 percent) fisheries.
- An individual fishing quota (IFQ or catch shares) program allocates the commercial quota among shareholders. Fishermen may harvest their individual allocation whenever they choose and must report how much they harvest through a strict reporting program.
- Minimum size limit to protect immature gag.
- Restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish, to reduce bycatch and protect spawning groups.
- Area closures for both commercial and recreational fisheries to protect spawning groupers.
- Recreational fishermen have a bag limit.