Black Groupers may be found throughout the western Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts and east to Bermuda, and continue along American and Caribbean coastal regions as far south as southern Brazil. Adults are not usually found at the northern extremes of this range. More numerous in the southern Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and throughout the Caribbean, this fish is popular not only for sport, but also as cuisine.
The Black Grouper’s hearty, oblong body is Gray or olive with dark and black blotches highlighted by spots of bronze or brass which are often streaked or outlined in white. It has a thick, protruding lower jaw and smallish eyes. The dorsal fin has 11 spines and 15-17 rays, rounding off with a black crest toward the tail. A wide, black-tipped tail seems almost chopped off, while other fins – also black-tipped – are rounded with smooth edges. Well-developed canine teeth and several additional sets of strong, slender teeth are used to prevent prey from escaping, rather than for tearing or attacking. Their lifespan is over 30 years, with most growth occurring during the first ten years of life. Average size frequently surpasses 40 pounds in weight. The world record for Black Grouper is 114 pounds.
Black Groupers are hermaphroditic and almost exclusively born as females, many of which transform into males as they grow larger. Juveniles feed solely on crustaceans and spend their youth inshore among beds of sea grass, especially along the coast of Florida. This solitary fish is comfortable near the surface of more southern waters, but may also often be found lurking in wrecks, reef shadows, or ledges at depths between 19-108 feet. Adult Black Groupers feed primarily on crustaceans, squid, and smaller reef fishes like grunts, snapper, and herrings, using great suction to pull quarry into their large mouths before swallowing it whole. They usually spawn between May and August, eventually reaching maturity at around 3 feet in length. Chief predators include sandbar sharks, great hammerheads, barracuda, and moray eels. Commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic, as well as recreational anglers, value this fish greatly for its taste and popularity. Impressive girth can provide more than just a strong battle. This fish strikes hard, pulls heavy, and uses structure to its advantage. When large enough, these fish may be filleted twice, resulting in even greater reward. Caught fresh and prepared correctly – a number of different ways – this can be one of the best-tasting fish.