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Epinephelus itajara

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA ACTINOPTERYGII PERCIFORMES EPINEPHELIDAE

Scientific Name: Epinephelus itajara
Species Authority: (Lichtenstein, 1822)
Common Name(s):
English Atlantic Goliath Grouper, Jewfish, Goliath Grouper
Spanish Guasa, Cherna, Cherne, Guato, Guaza, Mero, Mero Batata, Mero Guasa, Mero Güasa, Mero Pintado, Mero Sapo
French Mérou, Mérou Géant, Têtard
Synonym(s):
Epinephelus itajara (Lichtenstein, 1822)
Promicrops ditobo Roux & Collignon, 1954
Promicrops esonue Ehrenbaum, 1915
Serranus galeus Müller & Troschel, 1848
Serranus guasa Poey, 1860
Serranus itajara Lichtenstein, 1822
Serranus mentzelii Valenciennes, 1828
Taxonomic Notes: The Pacific “subpopulations” of Epinephelus itajara have recently been determined to be a distinct species (Craig et al. 2009). The Pacific Goliath Grouper is now treated as Epinephelus quinquefasciatus (Bocourt, 1868).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2011
Date Assessed: 2011-03-31
Assessor(s): Craig, M.T.
Reviewer(s): Sadovy, Y. & Liu, M.
Contributor(s): Chan, T.T. & Padovani-Ferreira, B.
Justification:
Epinephelus itajara is a widespread, slow growing, and aggregating species that has undergone significant population reduction over the past three generations (40.5 years) estimated to be at least 80% based on landings data and underwater visual censuses. Although there are now several regulations which prohibit E. itajara from being harvested (e.g., Continental USA since 1990; US Caribbean since 1993; Brazil since 2002), and despite promising signs of recovery in the USA, especially from increased sightings of smaller fish, there is no indication that the threat from overfishing has abated. It is probable that low level harvest of this species continues by poaching and mortality upon release following accidental capture as a result of barotrauma. As a result, high uncertainty is associated with any predictions for recovery of the species.
 
Despite clear and promising signs of recovery in US waters following the 1990 moratorium, the increases in numbers noted are young and juvenile fish (the species takes five to six years to become sexually mature). Hence many years of protection are still needed to enable populations to recover reproductive potential and range. Continued surveys and education programmes for this species and its inclusion in marine protected areas are proposed.
 
Because of the factors listed above, this species is listed as Critically Endangered (A2d).
 
It is recommended that the species be reassessed after five years following the completion of dedicated surveys and stock assessments.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Epinephelus itajara is found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In the western Atlantic, the species ranges from North Carolina (USA) to southeast Brazil (Francesconi and Schwartz 2000), and is caught widely in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout most of the Caribbean. It is reported in the eastern Atlantic from Senegal to Congo.
Countries:
Native:
Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Benin; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Brazil; Cameroon; Cayman Islands; Colombia; Congo; Costa Rica; Côte d'Ivoire; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Equatorial Guinea; French Guiana; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Liberia; Mauritania; Mexico; Montserrat; Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire); Nicaragua; Nigeria; Panama; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Suriname; Togo; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States (Florida); United States Minor Outlying Islands; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Native:
Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – western central
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Global or regional abundance of adults is unknown. Abundance is now rare where formerly it was abundant (Sadovy and Eklund 1999). The species, in general, was noted to be uncommon or rare in the mid 1990s, but juveniles appear to be recovering in some parts of its range where fishing moratoria were introduced (e.g., Florida). It is a large, rare and only a few individuals occur on any given reef unit (Huntsman et al. 1999).

Female-to-male sex ratio was 1.75:1 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico from 1977 to 1990 (Bullock et al. 1992).

Distribution densities of juveniles around mangrove islands (22-61 juveniles per km of mangrove shoreline) in the Ten Thousand Islands were found to be higher and less variable than the densities in rivers (0-46 juveniles per km) (Koenig et al. 2007).

Sexual pattern has not been confirmed (Bullock et al. 1992, Sadovy and Eklund 1999).

Most individuals collected from the eastern Gulf of Mexico were between nine and 15 years (with female and male ages overlapping), few exceeded 30 years (Bullock et al. 1992).

Estimated average length and fishing mortality in the exploited stock were found to be 1,161 mm total length (TL) and 0.04 per year in the Florida Keys, respectively (Ault et al. 2005).

Based on the distribution of age classes (Bullock et al. 1992) and a maturity age of six years (Sadovy and Eklund 1999), the generation time for Atlantic Goliath Grouper is estimated at 13.5 years (Note: Generation time is defined here as the mean age of reproductive individuals in a population). Therefore, measures of declines and/or recovery over three generations covers a time span of 40.5 years.
Population Trend: Unknown

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: General Ecology
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.

Diet
The species feeds on a wide diversity of fishes and invertebrates (Sadovy and Eklund 1999). It is a classic apex predator, large, rare and only a few individuals occur on any given reef unit (Huntsman et al. 1999)

Reproduction
Up to 100, sometimes more, individuals aggregate to spawn at specific times and locations. The aggregations last only a few weeks each year and represent most of the total annual reproductive effort (Sadovy and Eklund 1999). Its reproductive season occurs between June and December, with peak activity indicated from July through September in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (Bullock et al. 1992). The species is one of the few groupers that aggregate in relatively shallow (10-50 m) water (Coleman et al. 2002).

Possible courtship activities (without spawning) were observed on a wreck in the eastern Gulf of Mexico at 33 m depth in August 1990 (Colin 1994). Wrecks are often noted to be spawning areas for this species.

A study indicated that a 1,322 mm standard length (SL) and a 1,397 mm SL female had a batch fecundity of 38,922,168 ±1,518,283 and 56,599,306 ±1,866,130 oocytes, respectively (Bullock and Smith 1991).

According to a conceptual model for the role of dispersal in a simple life history model of E. itajara, such groupers exhibit a positive response to the establishment of a marine reserve. Apart from inducing an increase in population growth rate, implementation of a reserve could increase population recovery rates by increasing reproductive output (Gerber et al. 2005).

Age, growth and longevity
Epinephelus itajara grow slowly relative to their potential maximum size. Growth rates for male and female are similar, averaging >100 mm per year through age 6, then slowing to about 30 mm per year by age 15, and finally declining to <10 mm per year after age 25. Von Bertalanffy growth model was found to be TL (mm) = 206[1-e(-0.126(Age+0.49)] (Bullock et al. 1992).

Maximum size and age recorded were 2,000-2,500 mm TL (Heemstra and Randall 1993), 37 years (female) and 26 years (male) (Bullock et al. 1992), respectively.
Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Epinephelus itajara is utilized on a national and sub/national level for consumption in all areas of its range where capture is not prohibited (although there is likely usage in protected areas through poaching).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Life history characteristics of E. itajara make this species highly vulnerable to overfishing (Bullock et al. 1992). Epinephelus itajara is of significant commercial and recreational interest. Since the 1970s, landings, mean sizes, and catch per unit effort (CPUE) have fallen sharply in regional fisheries, and growth and recruitment are suspected to be in severe decline in some locations due to overfishing. Loss of critical juvenile habitat (i.e., mangroves) would also threaten this species (Sadovy and Eklund 1999;  www.bio.fsu.edu/coleman_lab/goliath_grouper.html, accessed on 31st Dec 2005).

Epinephelus itajara is apparently vulnerable to stresses caused by cold water (Gilmore et al. 1978) or red tide — it was recorded that populations of E. itajara were much reduced during a red tide in 1971 and dead individuals over 45 kg were often observed (Smith 1976). During an outbreak of red tide in Florida in March 2003, eleven large dead Goliath Grouper (sized 305 mm to 2,057 mm) washed up near the Sanibel Island Causeway (www.sefsc.noaa.gov/redtidegrouper.jsp, accessed on 4th Jan 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Epinephelus itajara was listed as a candidate species on the US Endangered Species List in 1999 (Federal Register, 23 June 1999) (www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Epinephelus+itajara accessed on 4th Jan 2006), and since 1991 has been referred to as a Species of Concern throughout its geographic range in US waters and the population off the coast of the southeastern US is listed as a Species of Concern by the NMFS (Federal Register 15 April 2004). All harvesting of the E. itajara in federal waters of the southeastern United States (including the Gulf of Mexico) has been prohibited since 1990 by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and in the Caribbean since 1993 by Caribbean Fishery Management Council. However, a recent status review (not a full status review) has had the species removed from this category (M. Nammack, NOAA, pers. comm.).

The NMFS, under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, lists the E. itajara as overfished in Reports to Congress on the Status of Fisheries (www.sefsc.noaa.gov/redtidegrouper.jsp accessed on 4th Jan 2006, Porch et al. 2003).

The American Fisheries Society classified E. itajara as being conservation dependent. Due to the fish's life history, it is vulnerable to become threatened, but can be kept from threatened status with appropriate protective measures (www.gulfcouncil.org/oldstories/2000-07-20-jewfish-update.htm, accessed on 31st Dec 2005).

Classified as endangered by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the concept of District Population Segments (DPS) but regarded as recovering under Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) (Musick et al. 2000).

A 5-year-protection was granted by the IBAMA (Brazilian Environmental Agency) on 20th September 2002 (www.vidamar.org.br/meros/english/index.php accessed on 3rd Jan 2006).

According to the regulations for E. itajara fishing in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, fishing in any form for this species is totally prohibited all year around (www.caribbeanfmc.com; accessed on 4th Jan 2006).

It was indicated that the ban on spear-fishing in the upper Florida Keys has significantly and beneficially influenced the average size of groupers, although their populations in this region have not reached stable levels (Sluka and Sullivan 1998).

Bibliography [top]

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Citation: Craig, M.T. 2011. Epinephelus itajara. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 23 August 2014.
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