Epinephelus lanceolatus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Perciformes Epinephelidae

Scientific Name: Epinephelus lanceolatus (Bloch, 1790)
Common Name(s):
English Giant Grouper, Brindle Bass, Brindled Grouper, Queensland Groper
French Mérou Lancéolé
Spanish Mero Lanceolade

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2006
Date Assessed: 2006-01-31
Needs updating
Assessor(s): Shuk Man, C. & Ng Wai Chuen (Grouper & Wrasse Specialist Group)
Reviewer(s): Sadovy, Y. & Russell, B. (Grouper & Wrasse Red List Authority)
E. lanceolatus is the largest reef-dwelling fish in the world (Gomon et al. 1994) and was much sought after by line and spearfishers in New South Wales (Australia) prior to its listing as a protected species in the early 1980s. The IUCN recognised its vulnerability with respect to exploitation, listing it in the mid-1990s as Vulnerable on the Red List.

Being such a large predator, it is rare even in areas unexploited by fishing (Randall and Heemstra 1991) and it has nearly been extirpated in areas where it has been heavily fished (Lieske and Myers 1994) for the live reef food-fish trade; this is a trade in live fish for food which is centred in SE Asia and expecially China and Chinese communities. This species is delicious and highly valued and is considered to confer good luck, possess medicinal value, and be an indicator of tank water quality by the Chinese; live specimens of 45 to 90 cm in length were commonly seen in a survey of the live fish trade in Hong Kong (Lee and Sadovy 1998). Fish of this size are likely to be sexually immature (i.e., juveniles) (Lee and Sadovy 1998), limiting the numbers of fish surviving to reproduce in the wild. Although, increasingly, fish from full cycle hatchery culture are entering the live fish trade in Hong Kong and China, which may take some pressure off wild stocks, reports of large individuals (too old to grow out in captivity), taken from the wild, are still coming in from Indonesia (e.g., P. Chan pers. comm. 2002, D. Trakakis pers. comm. 2002) and the Andaman Islands.

Hong Kong is the major importer of this species, globally, as far as we know, although some Giant Grouper are later trans-shipped into mainland China. A survey of the imports in live fish in Hong Kong by Lau and Parry-Jones (1999), revealed that E. lanceolatus made up 1.9% (approx. 456 t) of the total annual volume of all live reef fish fish imported into Hong Kong. About 59% (23/39) surveyed traders imported Giant Grouper. Hong Kong government data suggested that Indonesia is the only country of origin, but interviews with traders revealed other source countries were likely, including the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, India (Andaman Islands) and Thailand (Lau and Parry-Jones 1999, Dr. C.M. James pers. comm. for Andaman Islands). Retail prices can be as high as US$ 169/kg for small size individuals which are more preferred by the restaurant sector in Hong Kong (hence more expensive) than larger fish (Sadovy and Vincent 2002). Interview surveys in Hong Kong showed that 46 % of interviewed restaurants (n = 166) sold E. lanceolatus. (Lau and Parry-Jones 1999). The size range sold by the traders is 0.6-1.8 kg, 33.57–52.41 cm (TL) for smaller individuals and 3.02–181.4 kg, 56.43-210.39 cm for bigger individuals.

The approximate size of sexual maturation for E. lanceolatus is 105–110 cm TL, which means that all smaller individuals and maybe some larger individuals are consumed before they reach sexual maturity. Localised depletions may be a consequence of focused local fishing activity and further pressures are likely to be placed on this species in other parts of its range (e.g., Australia or other Southeast Asian countries) once Indonesian populations are reduced (Pogonoski et al. 2002). Massive numbers of juveniles are observed in Hong Kong seafood markets (Ng Wai Chuen pers. obs. 2004). Many of those fish now come from mariculture facilities that produce this species through full cycle culture in Taiwan; mainland China is also actively attempting to hatchery rear this species although the extent of their progress could not be determined. Some large individuals, however, still come from the wild, for example from Indonesia. (See the Supplementary Material for import figures into Hong Kong).

More biological information needs to be accumulated since no information is available on their migration, spawning, etc. Research can be done possibly by radiotracking surveys of individual fish (Pogonoski et al. 2002). Although Taiwan has made this fish achieve a "Mass Production" stage in hatchery production (Taiwan Breeding Species VIII), the proportion of individuals from wild versus hatchery production is unknown. If hatchery production constitutes a significant proportion of the market and replaces wild-caught fish, the threat to the wild population may be alleviated.

Data that are needed to improve the assessment include: Catch and UVC data for the species. Import data in Hong Kong is relatively rich, but import/export data for other countries is not available.
For further information about this species, see 7858_Epinephelus_lanceolatus.pdf.
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Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:E. lanceolatus is the largest and most widely distributed among all groupers (Sadovy and Cornish 2000) but is locally rare (Randall 1995). It occurs throughout the Indo-Pacific region from the Red Sea to Algoa Bay (South Africa) and eastward to the Hawaiian and Pitcairn Islands (Heemstra and Randall 1993) throughout Micronesia (Myers 1991). In the western Pacific, it ranges northwards to southern Japan and southwards to Australia. In Australia it occurs all along tropical and temperate coasts, rarely straying into cool temperate waters (Gomon et al. 1994. It is known from oceanic islands as well as continental localities. Its absence in the Persian Gulf is puzzling (Heemstra and Randall 1993). It can be found in the entire Indian Ocean, but is rarely seen north of the Maldives (Delbelius 1993). Not known from the coast of Pakistan, near the entrance to the Gulf or Gulf of Oman, but E. lanceolatus is reported from the coast of Pakistan near the entrance to the Gulf of Oman observed by divers off Raysut, southern Oman (Randall 1995).

In S and SE Asia E. lanceolatus is recorded from Japan, mainland China, Hainan Island, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There isalso a recent record for Hong Kong (Sadovy and Cornish 2000). In Taiwan the species was recorded rarely at Ruerhmen at the southwest waters, but not found in other parts of the island (Kuo and Shao 1999).

Indonesia and the Philippines were, respectively, the main sources of Live Reef Fish imports into Hong Kong as well as the main sources for E. lanceolatus (Lau and Parry-Jones 1999, Sadovy et al. 2003).
Countries occurrence:
American Samoa; Australia; British Indian Ocean Territory; Cambodia; Comoros; Cook Islands; Djibouti; Eritrea; Fiji; French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotu); Guam; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Japan (Ogasawara-shoto); Kenya; Kiribati; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Mauritius; Mayotte; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Mozambique; Myanmar; Nauru; New Caledonia; Niue; Northern Mariana Islands; Pakistan; Palau; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Pitcairn; Réunion; Samoa; Saudi Arabia; Seychelles; Singapore; Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa; Sri Lanka; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Tokelau; Tonga; Tuvalu; United States (Hawaiian Is.); United States Minor Outlying Islands (Johnston I., Wake Is.); Vanuatu; Viet Nam; Wallis and Futuna; Yemen
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – southeast; Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – western central
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:It is rare thus population status cannot be inferred from insufficient data.

Minimum population doubling time more than 14 years (Froese and Pauly 2005).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:E. lanceolatus is the largest of all coral reef dwelling bony fishes. It tends to be solitary and inhabits lagoon and seaward reefs at a depth of a few to at least 50m. Large individuals often have a "home" cave or wreck in which they frequently stay (Myers 1991). It is somewhat unusual for a large species in that large individuals can be found in shallow inshore waters, including rocky areas, caves and wrecks, habours and estuaries, (Lau and Li 2000, Sadovy and Cornish 2000) and down to 100 m; overall it is more often found in shallow water (Heemstra and Randall 1993). It even swims into brackish areas (Delbelius 1993). Specimens more than a meter long have been caught from close to shore and in harbours (Heemstra and Randall 1993).

Its favourite food on coral reefs and in rocky areas is spiny lobsters. It is also known to eat a variety of fishes, including small sharks and batoids, and juvenile sea turtles; in South African estuaries, the main prey item is the mud crab (Heemstra and Randall 1993). All food is swallowed whole (Myers 1991).

Maturity size is thought to be approximately 129 cm and max size is 270 cm (Lau and Li 2000). It rarely reaches its final weight of about 400 kg. The larger it grows, the shyer it becomes according to underwater observations (Delbelius 1993).

There are no reported direct observations of spawning aggregations (as is found in many other grouper species) for E. lanceolatus, although these have been reported anecdotally (Domeier et al. 2002). Interviews with fishermen provide indirect evidence of spawning aggregations in eastern Indonesia where seasonally, catches increase from an average 1 fish/week/boat to 5–6 fish/week/boat during the possible aggregation season; the spawning period was suggested to be December to February based on these interview data (Sadovy and Liu 2004).

Rarely is the species seen underwater anywhere, but there are reports of individuals caught in Hong Kong, by hook or spear, in deeper water and outer islands such as Waglan Island dating back at least 30 years (Sadovy and Cornish 2000). The Giant Grouper is nowadays often brought into Hong Kong from elsewhere in the South China Sea and beyond, for consumption, and periodically escapes from mariculture facilities, so the source of Giant Grouper seen in Hong Kong waters to day is uncertain. From older reports, however, small numbers of this species did once occur naturally in local waters but this location is edge of range (Sadovy and Cornish 2000).

It is not common enough to be of much commercial importance, but it is often the target of spearfishermen because of its size. Caught with hook and line and spear (Heemstra and Randall 1993).

Data are needed on age, growth, reproduction, landings and trade (other than Hong Kong imports).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Commercial and recreational fishing activities, including the live reef fish trade and the marine aquarium fish trade, have the potential to adversely affect populations of this species (Pogonoski et al. 2002). In the Andaman Islands, India, Giant Grouper are protected by law but the fisheries department does not enforce this law and the fish caught are unnoticed and are not cared for (Dr. C.M. James pers. comm.), leading to mortalities.

It is likely that since a large area of reef is required to maintain such a large predator, its numbers are typically low, even in unexploited areas; this is consistent with underwater observations. In many places, it has all but disappeared (Myers 1991), due primarily to spearfishermen. Since the species takes decades to grow, and juveniles are also relatively uncommon, there is little chance of giant individuals reappearing in unprotected areas (Myers 1991).

The gall bladder of the Giant Grouper is an item of strong magical-medical significance to cure 'soul loss and ease pain', and even today, the highly distinctive thick walled stomach of E. lanceolatus sells for a high price and the skin and flesh are appreciated (Sadovy and Cornish 2000).

Small groupers are quite palatable, but the flesh of large fish is strong flavoured and stringy (Gomon et al. 1994). The meat of this fish is quite popular around the world. It is one of the most highly valued live food dishes and retails at over US$ 100/kg for the smaller specimens; larger specimens have a lower wholesale price per kg (Lau and Parry-Jones 1999, Sadovy and Vincent 2002). Juvenile Giant Groupers are sometimes found in the pet (aquarium) trade. As a young fish, this grouper sports beautiful colors and moves gracefully, hence the appeal.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Protection in Australia
E. lanceolatus was catergorized as Lower Risk (conservation dependent) on an Australia-wide basis.

Under current Queensland Fisheries regulations, the fish is classified as "no take species" for recreational fishing (

Under Northern Territory Regulation 9 of the Fisheries Act, no species of the genus Epinephelus above the size of 120 cm may be taken (H. Larson, pers. comm., cited in Pogonoski et al. 2002).

Protected Species in NSW Waters (since 1977).

Protected Species in WA waters.

No ASFB Listing (Pogonoski et al. 2002).

Protected species in Queensland waters (since 2003) (Queensland Fisheries Service 2003).

Protection in India
There is a total ban on the capture and sale of E. lanceolatus in the Union Territory of Andaman Islands, India, where E. lanceolatus is relatively abundant. The local fisheries department has issued notices and the field staff monitor the capture and sale of it. Shipment or marketing of this species is not permitted. However, there is accidental capture of this species along with other groupers, although it cannot be marketed openly. In mainland India, this species is included in the banned list of species for fishing. But, except in Laccadive Islands and in the Gulf of Mannar, the species is not common (Dr. C.M. James pers. comm.).

Citation: Shuk Man, C. & Ng Wai Chuen (Grouper & Wrasse Specialist Group). 2006. Epinephelus lanceolatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2006: e.T7858A12856033. . Downloaded on 17 July 2018.
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