Also known as the Jewfish, the Goliath Grouper prefers to stalk coral and artificial reefs in shallow tropical waters. Their range in the western Atlantic Ocean includes the Florida Keys, most of the Caribbean Sea, the Bahamas, and almost the entire Brazilian coast. Across the Atlantic, they reach the northwestern African coast, from Congo to Senegal. Goliaths are also found in the western Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California to Peru.
The entire body coloration is a basic light-to-dark brown, with small dark eyes. The Goliath’s head and fins are covered with small black spots, while the sides are patterned with irregular dark vertical bars. The first dorsal fin is spiked, shorter than, and connected to the second, which is larger and more rounded. Pectoral and lower fins are wide and also rounded. Five rows of strong teeth in the lower jaw help this fish to seize and entrap prey. Goliaths are distinguished from other groupers by a number of short, weakly developed canine teeth. Largest of all groupers, adult Goliaths reach staggering sizes – averaging upwards of 800 pounds in weight. The IGFA record for Goliath Grouper is 1680 pounds.
The Goliath is a solitary fish, most often found near shore around docks, ledges, and deep holes. Extremely territorial near areas of refuge, it will quiver with open mouth and is even able to produce an audible rumbling sound, in order to warn intruders, or to locate and/or attract others of its kind. Spawning occurs in the summer months, with young being born in estuaries, especially around oyster bars. Strikingly-patterned juveniles develop into adults in the comfort of brackish estuaries, canals, and mangrove swamps before seeking deeper climes in adulthood. This is an ambush predator, catching meals with a quick rush and snap of the jaws, and usually swallowing items whole. Adults feed on lobsters, shrimps, and other crustaceans, as well as stingrays, octopus, young sea turtles, and other fish.
Generally inquisitive and fearless by nature, this fish is relatively easy prey for spearfishermen. Their habit of spawning in large concentrations, and returning to the same locations to do so, makes them prime targets for mass harvesting. This caused Jewfish populations to suffer until a harvest ban was recently enacted. They are currently recovering, but a slow growth rate will delay full recovery for a while. Still, they remain actively sought by sport fishermen who also profit from their rather delicious meat, in addition to the tremendous challenge of landing one.