About the Species
Although some populations are below target levels, U.S. wild-caught greater amberjack is still a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level in the South Atlantic, but significantly below target population level in the Gulf of Mexico, where a rebuilding plan is in place. The population level in the Caribbean is unknown.
At recommended level in the South Atlantic. Reduced to end overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Fishing gear used to catch greater amberjack rarely contacts the ocean floor and has minimal impacts on habitat.
Bycatch is low because the gears used to catch greater amberjack are selective.
There are three stocks of greater amberjack: Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Caribbean. According to the most recent stock assessments:
The Gulf of Mexico stock is overfished and subject to overfishing (2020 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
The South Atlantic stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2020 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
The population status of the U.S. Caribbean Jacks Complex, which includes greater amberjack, is unknown. The complex has not been assessed, but according to 2019 catch data, the complex is not subject to overfishing.
- During the period of high landings in the 1980s and 1990s, greater amberjack became an important alternative for red drum, which experienced decreases in commercial landings. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishing rates were too high and the stock was declared overfished in 2001. The stock has been in a rebuilding plan since 2003.
- Greater amberjack have a dark amber strip on their head, extending from their nose to their first dorsal (back) fin, which becomes more defined when the fish is excited or feeding.
- They have a brownish or bluish-grey back, a silvery-white belly, and an amber horizontal strip along the middle of their body.
- Juveniles have a yellow color and five or six dark vertical bars along the sides.
- Greater amberjack can grow up to 6 feet long and live to be 17 years old.
- Adults can weigh up to 200 pounds, but are most commonly found to be up to 40 pounds.
- Females grow larger in size and live longer than males.
- Greater amberjack mature at about 3 to 4 years of age and spawn primarily from March to June on reefs and shipwrecks. A female can release between 18 and 59 million eggs during a single spawning season.
- Adults eat mostly crab, squid, and other fishes found on reefs.
- Juveniles feed on plankton, including crustacean larvae and other small invertebrates.
- Predators include seabirds and larger fishes, such as yellowfin tuna.
Where They Live
- Greater amberjack are found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
- In the western Atlantic, they are found from Nova Scotia to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
- NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Fishery Management Councils manage the greater amberjack fishery. The governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands manage the greater amberjack fishery in territorial waters.
- In the South Atlantic, managed under the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan:
- Fishermen must have a limited access snapper grouper permit to commercially harvest greater amberjack. Anyone entering the commercial fishery must buy two transferable vessel permits in order to qualify for a newly issued permit, thus eliminating one permit each time a new person enters the commercial fishery.
- Commercial and recreational size limits, to ensure that fish grow large enough to reproduce.
- Commercial trip and recreational bag limits.
- During April of each year, the commercial fishing season is closed to alleviate fishing pressure when the fish aggregate to spawn and are highly vulnerable to fishing. The sale and purchase of greater amberjack during this seasonal closure is illegal.
- To help protect deep-water snapper grouper species and their habitats, there are restrictions on the use of bottom longline and trawl fishing gear.
- There are eight deep-water marine protected areas intended to protect habitats.
- In the Gulf of Mexico, managed under the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Plan:
- Commercial and recreational size limits ensure that fish grow large enough to reproduce.
- Commercial and recreational trip and bag limits.
- To promote spawning and slow the rate of harvest, closed seasons have been implemented for the commercial (from March 1 through May 31) and recreational (from June 1 through July 31) fisheries.
- To help protect reef fish, sea turtles, and bottom habitat, there are restrictions on the use of longline gear.
- In federal waters of the U.S. Caribbean, greater amberjack are managed under the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Fishery of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and territorial regulations in each of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands:
- In federal waters of the U.S. Caribbean, greater amberjack are managed as part of three island-level Jacks Complexes (Puerto Rico, St.Thomas/St. John, and St. Croix), which include seven jack species. A stock complex, such as the Jacks Complex, includes multiple fish stocks that are managed as one unit in a fishery.
- Recreational bag limits apply to the jacks complex in federal waters of the U.S. Caribbean.
- In Puerto Rico territorial waters, greater amberjack cannot be sold.
- In 2019, commercial landings of greater amberjack totaled more than 811,000 pounds and were valued at more than $1.4 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- Electric and hydraulic reels and hand lines are used to catch most of the commercial harvest of greater amberjack. Recreational harvest is by hook-and-line.
- Greater amberjack are large trophy fish prized by anglers.
- In 2019, recreational anglers landed more than 2.2 million pounds of greater amberjack, according to the NOAA Fisheries recreational fishing landings database.