This bottom dwelling fish occupies regions in the western Atlantic Ocean, ranging from as far north as Massachusetts to southeastern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. In these waters it is widely distributed from swaths close inshore to ledges and wrecks in depths up to 300 feet. The majority of sport catches are made in depths of 10-100 feet.
The entire body of this fish is painted in different hues of reds, with unorganized patterns of blotches highlighted by bright spots along the sides. The mouth is lined scarlet-orange. Red Grouper have scales and thick skin at the base of the soft dorsal and anal fins. The dorsal fin has two connecting sections, with the second spine longer and more rounded than the first which is spiked higher. The tail is darker red, wide and squared off with a whitish edge. Black dots decorate and surround large eyes. Females mature about three years later than males, then transform to males between the ages of seven and fifteen. Red Grouper normally grow up to four feet in length and reach a maximum weight of 51 pounds. They are commonly taken at weights approaching 15 pounds. The world record for Red Grouper is 42 pounds, 4 ounces.
Spawning occurs between February and June, peaking in April and May, in offshore coastal waters at depths between 69 and 361 feet. Young Red Grouper do not stray from their near shore reefs, but eventually move offshore and away from shallower reef environments as they mature. Adults move frequently and seem to cover wide ranges through migration, tending to associate themselves with areas of hard, rocky and muddy bottom. These fish are opportunistic feeders, but the primary food source for adults includes squid and octopus, crustaceans, and a wide variety of other fish. Larger Reds have been known to feed on juvenile members of their own species. Red Groupers are considered to be among the top predators in their respective reef communities, ambushing prey and engulfing it whole, while preventing escape with several sets of strong, slender teeth.
Red Grouper are low in saturated fat and a good source of vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, and potassium. They are also a great source of protein and selenium. Unfortunately they are highly sensitive to red tide organisms, as well as overfishing, especially in the south Atlantic. Populations of Red Grouper have been heavily impacted by overfishing, and it is presently listed as “Near Threatened” with the IUCN Red List. Still, it remains one of the most commonly sought groupers, extremely popular to anglers who regard it as one of the toughest-fighting groupers.