Goliath Grouper. With a name like that, it’s not surprising that they’re a wildly popular sport fish. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of chasing giant, prehistoric-looking fish? But as with most sport fish, the question arises can you eat goliath grouper? The answer could be a simple yes, but this is a very open-ended question that can often lead to more questions than answers.
For that reason, we’ve put together this article in hopes of clearing this up and addressing other questions that might arise when it comes to goliath grouper.
Table of Contents (clickable)
What is a Goliath Grouper?
The name says it all. The goliath grouper is the largest of all grouper, and one of the largest bony fish (fish with skeletons) in the world, reaching weights in excess of 800 pounds. While it has been reported that goliath grouper have been seen stalking, and even attempting to ambush divers, it’s very rare, and this gentle giant is popular amongst divers because they are often very docile and easily approached, with caution of course.
Found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the goliath grouper’s range extends from northern Florida through the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean Sea and down the South American Coast to Brazil in the Atlantic. In the Pacific, goliath grouper can be found from Mexico to Peru.
While there are subtle differences in coloration and features that separate the goliath grouper from others in the grouper family, the most noticeable difference is the size. No other grouper grows the size that goliaths do.
Goliath grouper love hanging around large structures for cover and can be found hiding out in shipwrecks, near oil platforms, and cruising along large reefs, natural or man-made, in search of the slow-moving fish and crustaceans they feed on. Before finding those offshore structures, however, grouper will spend 5 to 6 years in the shallower water mangrove habitats where they were born, reaching lengths of 3 to 4 feet before venturing out into the open water.
Can You Eat Goliath Grouper?
This is where things can get a little complicated. There’s a strong chance that you’ve never tasted goliath grouper, and if you have, it may have been the result of some laws being broken.
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, goliath grouper were highly sought after as high-quality seafood. This led to overfishing, both commercial and recreational, and combined with other factors like slow reproduction rate and the destruction of suitable habitat and spawning areas, goliath grouper populations saw a significant decline. Eventually, this steady decline meant that the fish were deemed critically endangered and several strict laws were put in place throughout continental U.S. and U.S. Caribbean waters in hopes that they would rebound.
Fortunately, these laws have proved to have a positive outcome on the goliath grouper populations in U.S. waters, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has implemented a ‘highly regulated harvest’ that sees a lottery for 200 permits per year. These permits are also highly regulated. They include possession limits and slot sizes and are limited to specific waters within Florida.
Are Goliath Grouper Good to Eat?
Goliath grouper were overharvested because they are both nutritious and delicious. Described by those who have had the pleasure of eating them as having a dense, slightly salty, and sweet taste, goliath grouper contains all of the same vitamins and minerals that make any fish a healthy option.
Where they do differ, however, is the mercury content. Because goliath grouper live so long, and grow so large, their mercury content is higher than most other fish. The larger they get, the higher this mercury content is going to be. While this may not be an immediate threat to people eating the meat, too much consumption of it can have negative health risks, most notably, mercury poisoning.
To avoid these high levels of mercury, and to have the best-tasting meat possible, it is recommended to eat the smaller fish, which is directly in line with the imposed slot limit of 24-26 inches (roughly 30 pounds).
Sometimes questions don’t have the simple yes or no answers we often look for. As is the case with the question, can you eat goliath grouper? For a lot of fish, the answer can be a simple yes, but for goliath grouper, the answer is a little more complicated.
If you’re planning on eating some goliath grouper, make sure that you’re not only within the law but also that the meat isn’t coming from fish that contain high levels of mercury.
Do you plan on taking advantage of Florida’s new lottery and keeping a grouper for a meal? Let us know by leaving a comment!