The Atlantic goliath grouper or itajara (Epinephelus itajara), also known as "jewfish", is a large saltwater fish of the grouper family found primarily in shallow tropical waters among coral and artificial reefs at depths from 5 to 50 m (16 to 164 ft). Its range includes the Florida Keys in the US, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean and most of the Brazilian coast. On some occasions, it is caught off the coasts of the US states of New England off Maine and Massachusetts. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, it occurs from the Congo to Senegal.
|Atlantic goliath grouper|
They may reach extremely large sizes, growing to lengths up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) and can weigh as much as 360 kg (790 lb). The world record for a hook-and-line-captured specimen is 308.44 kg (680.0 lb), caught off Fernandina Beach, Florida, in 1961. They are usually around 180 kg (400 lb) when mature. Considered of fine food quality, Atlantic goliath grouper were a highly sought-after quarry for fishermen. It is a relatively easy prey for spear fishermen because of the grouper's inquisitive and generally fearless nature. They also tend to spawn in large aggregations, returning annually to the same locations. This makes them particularly vulnerable to mass harvesting while breeding.
Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is entirely protected from harvest and is recognized as a critically endangered species by the IUCN. The US began protection in 1990, and the Caribbean in 1993. The species' population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish's slow growth rate, however, some time will be needed for populations to return to their previous levels.
Goliath groupers are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites, which refer to organisms that are born female and at some point in their lifespans change sex to male. Most grouper follow this pattern, but this has not yet been verified for the goliath. Males can be sexually mature at about 115 centimetres (45 in), and ages 4–6 years. Females mature around 125 centimetres (49 in), and about 6–8 years.
In May 2015, the Atlantic goliath grouper was successfully bred in captivity for the first time. Since Epinephelus itajara are critically endangered it is important that conservation efforts for the E. itajara are focused on their habitat. Tidal pools act as nurseries for juvenile E. itajara. In tidal pools juvenile E.itajara are able to utilize rocky crevices for shelter. Besides shelter, tidal pools provide E. itajara with plenty of prey such as lobster and porcelain crab.
The Atlantic goliath grouper has been referred to as the jewfish. The name's origin is unclear, and may have referred to the flesh having a "clean" taste comparable to kosher food; it has also been suggested that this name is simply a corruption of jawfish. In 2001, the American Fisheries Society stopped using the term because of concerns that it was culturally insensitive.