- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Red grouper (Epinephelus)
A member of the sea bass family, the coloration of red grouper varies with the conditions of their environment. Most often they are a dark red-brown color with a pinkish tinge below. Like Nassau grouper, they may have blotches irregularly scattered on the sides. The soft dorsal, anal and caudal fins have a blackish or bluish tinge. The eyes are surrounded by small black spots. The lining of the mouth is noticeable because of its bright scarlet to orange color.
The angular first dorsal fin is connected to the rounded second dorsal fin. The second dorsal spine is longer than the other dorsal spines, while pelvic fins are shorter than the pectoral fins. The gill covers have three flat spines, and the edge of the fan-shaped caudal fin is straight.
Red grouper are found in the subtropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, primarily between 40 degrees north and 35 degrees south latitude. This area runs generally from North Carolina to Brazil and includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and Bermuda. However, red grouper are seen in fewer numbers in the Caribbean and around Florida and the Bahamas due to extensive fishing. Red grouper are most common in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a bottom-dwelling species, red grouper are usually found near some sort of underwater structure such as a reef or shipwreck. Usually they are found in areas with rocky or muddy surfaces, especially around ridges, ravines and caves. They may also congregate around the edges of seagrass beds and deep backwater holes. An exception to these structures is coral reefs, which are not favored by red grouper.
Red grouper are somewhat adaptable to different water temperatures, but they seem to prefer temperatures between 66 and 77 degrees F. Adult grouper will seek water offshore and go to areas as deep as 400 feet, while juvenile grouper will congregate in shallower water closer to shore until they reach adulthood. For the most part, red grouper do not gather in large schools, especially as they age. Instead, they are a solitary species that hides in cover and structural elements in their environment.
Spawning season runs from March through July throughout their range, with April and May the most active months. During the spawn, red grouper generally seek water more than 80 feet deep with water temperature between 65 and 75 degrees F near reefs and artificial structures.
A typical female red grouper will deposit more than 300,000 eggs, though the number can exceed 5 million. The grouper larvae float near the surface for about one month before descending to the sea bottom. Once the eggs hatch, the young red grouper will rise to areas of plant life near the surface.
The preferred feeding style of the red grouper is to ambush prey that wanders past their hiding place. They will leave their territory to seek food only when necessary. Once they see their prey, they strike, eat the food whole and return quickly to their hiding place.
Additionally, they are not particularly selective in their diet. Although they prefer squid, crab, shrimp, lobster and octopus, they will eat almost anything that presents itself, including dead fish that sink into their habitat.
Red grouper are a popular sport fish in areas where they are found, though their fighting reputation is ordinary at best. However, some reach 25 to 35 pounds in weight. Bottom fishing, drift fishing and trolling techniques are all used in pursuit of red grouper. They key to finding these loner fish is to present a bait or lure near the bottom of the water in the vicinity of their hiding place. This may mean fishing depths of more than 100 feet.
Live and dead natural bait (shrimp, crab and assorted strip and cut baitfish), jigs tipped with natural bait, and jigging spoons all work well on the red grouper. Medium- to heavy-action bait-casting, spinning and conventional tackle is recommended.
Strict harvest regulations for red grouper exist in many coastal waters. Survival rates are extremely low when red grouper are released, due to their air bladders that rupture when pulled from the depths. Therefore, once a limit is caught, anglers are encouraged to move to a new spot or fish for another species.
- Spear fishing and increased sport fishing in the Caribbean Sea and off both Florida coasts have greatly reduced the numbers of red grouper in those areas.
- The firm white meat of the red grouper is considered good quality. This makes the red grouper an important commercial species and significant amounts of the fish are marketed both fresh and frozen to consumers. Caution is required, however, because they are susceptible to various toxins that can affect human consumers.