GROUPER FAQs

The answers to the following questions can be found throughout our website, or through external links that we have provided with each answer. If you have other questions, please feel free to send us a message on the Contact Us page. Click on the theme below to jump to that section. Click on the blue highlighted text to visit the links in each answer.

 

Nassau & Goliath FAQs 

​​​Why are Nassau grouper prohibited from fishing in federal US Caribbean and state waters of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands?

Because this grouper is threatened with extinction in this region. Although once considered the most common commercially-important grouper throughout the Caribbean, most populations have been reduced by 80% (on average). Overfishing of their spawning aggregations has caused significant declines in abundance, with some of their populations considered commercially extinct. This led to the designation of Nassau grouper as Threatened with extinction in USA waters (ESA). Local wildlife and fisheries regulations (PR-DNER) since 2004 and federal (NOAA) ESA and fisheries management plans since the 1990s have established strict and fully compatible regulations whereby possessing Nassau grouper is illegal for the time being based on the population estimates in this region​

Are Goliath grouper prohibited from fishing in federal US Caribbean waters and state waters of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands?

Yes, the populations of Goliath grouper are protected in US Caribbean waters where fishing, possession and killing of this species is prohibited by federal fisheries regulations (CFMC) and local fisheries regulations (PR-DNER). Currently the Goliath grouper are not designated under the ESA, in part because the mainland USA populations of Goliath grouper, after years of effective management, are recovering and their current protection is well enforced.

What happens if I am caught with a Nassau or Goliath grouper?

You cannot ultimately know what fish is going to bite the hook on your line, so sometimes you may have to release a Nassau or Goliath from your gear. Catching one of these species is not illegal, it is only when you keep the fish (possession) that you have committed a violation. The charge for violating the local wildlife laws in Puerto Rico is $5,000 USD per fish! That is a hefty fine! If the violation occurs in the EEZ, you could be subject to additional fines and/or charges imposed by NOAA as well. Remember, if you are a spearfisher, you can selectively choose which grouper to hunt, so be sure to avoid these two species! If you are not sure which species it is, avoid killing the fish and check out our Groupers page before your next fishing trip.

How do I safely release a Nassau or Goliath grouper and return it to the water alive?

Venting, descending devices and weighted crates are simple and useful methods for returning any fish to the seafloor for their greatest chances of survival. For large fish like Goliath, it’s important to get the tail under the water and angle the head downward after removing the hook. This video describes the correct release process for Goliath grouper.

Why are Nassau or Goliath grouper so important to Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean?

These species are an important element of the cultural identity of fishing communities as historically many fisheries were based on grouper species. Grouper meat was considered first class seafood and vessels from the island of Puerto Rico navigated throughout the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Saba Banks in search of reef fish.  Nassau grouper was one of the most easily caught due to its shallow habitats as well as their curious and docile behavior when encountered.

Where can I find these two fish in the ocean?

They both inhabit coral reefs as adults and you can find juveniles in shallow places like seagrass beds, rubble, shallow coral reefs and near mangroves. That’s why these habitats are considered Essential Fish Habitat, because they are necessary to complete the full life cycle of these protected species– from infant to adult and for the creation of future generations!

What caused Nassau and Goliath grouper to decline in the US Caribbean?

Both species are large, tasty, easy to approach and targeted during reproductive seasons when they form fish spawning aggregations (FSAs). Overfishing of FSAs occurred throughout the Caribbean for centuries but now the detrimental impacts of removing the reproductively active adults (spawning stock) has been fully recognized and steps to protect FSAs are being implemented throughout the region. Check out this video about Nassau grouper FSAs and why we need to protect them.

 

What should citizens and fishers do to help these fish populations recover?

That’s easy! As a fisher, you can make sure that you can identify groupers correctly! Avoid capturing or accidentally keeping a Nassau or Goliath grouper, because mis-identification will not hold up to the law if you are caught with either of these two species. You can make sure that you know how to properly release a grouper back into its habitat so that it will survive. You can also ensure that you are not fishing in specific areas during closed seasons or reproductive times and this will limit your chances of accidently catching these fish as they aggregate to mate.

As a citizen, you can help promote the vitality of essential fish habitat by taking part in public hearings and writing to your representatives and fishery council members to request that seagrass beds, coral reefs and mangroves in your area be protected from harmful development or pollution. You can also report illegal fishing in closed areas or during closed seasons to the Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA) and the PR-DNER. Here are their numbers:

  1. NOAA Law Enforcement Office: 787-221-4897 , available 24/7

  2. DNER Central Station (San Juan): 787-230-5550

 

 

General Grouper FAQs

Do no-take regulations for Nassau and Goliath groupers apply in territorial waters?

Yes, there are local and federal regulations that are 100% compatible between the Puerto Rico territorial and federal waters that prohibit possession of Nassau and Goliath grouper throughout the US Caribbean! The Puerto Rico regulations are based on Fisheries Law 278 (1998) and the Wildlife Protection Law 241 (1999). The US ESA law applies to Nassau grouper only in both federal and territorial waters.

Who manages groupers in territorial waters? In federal waters?

Fisheries regulations that apply only to territorial waters are managed by the PR-DNER Fisheries Regulation # 7949 (2010). Regulations that apply in federal waters are managed by the Caribbean Fishery Management Council and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. However, the US Coast Guard also has jurisdiction to enforce federal regulations in the US Caribbean.

How far do Puerto Rico territorial waters extend?

Nine (9) nautical miles (Nm) from the coast of any Puerto Rico territory, including the islands of Desecheo, Mona and Monito.

How do I know when I have entered federal waters?

Refer to the nautical chart view on your GPS. This boundary will be called the ‘Natural Resources Boundary’ line, referring to the limit of the territorial waters and beginning of the EEZ. This is depicted at 9 Nm from the coast of any island in Puerto Rico.

What species of groupers are caught in the US Caribbean fishery that I can responsibly consume?

The status of most grouper populations in the US Caribbean is unknown due to data limitations and therefore most groupers are not considered a sustainable seafood choice. This is due to decades of intense fishing that reduced their populations, which now require special management measures to rebuild their populations. Although many of our grouper species are currently managed – under annual catch limits (ACLs), closed seasons and species prohibitions – stock assessments are necessary to determine if fishing these species can be fished sustainably. These assessments are available on NOAA’s StockSMART page.

How can I help ensure that there will be a diversity of groupers in the future?

As a consumer, you can avoid eating grouper if the species identity cannot be verified or during the known grouper mating season in general (December-May). You can choose other options like pelagics (tuna, mahi, wahoo), snappers (but not during their mating season), and invasive species like the lionfish, which are also delicious options!

How can I be reminded about the seasonal closures for the different grouper species every year?

The Caribbean Fishery Management Council produces a calendar and sends updates such as bulletins by e-mail and on their social media to remind everyone about the upcoming closures. You can also download the free Fish Rules app that will show you the fishing regulations based on your GPS location.

 

Grouper Biology & Ecology FAQs

I thought groupers lived on coral reefs, so why are seagrass beds and mangroves important for them?

These associated habitats are where groupers can find most of their food items and hide from predators while they are small in size, also known as their ‘nursery’ areas. Once they grow larger, they migrate and take residence in shallow and deeper coral reefs.

What does protecting those habitats actually do for groupers?

Protecting mangroves and seagrass beds increases the likelihood that slow growing groupers will survive during the 5-8 years needed to become adults and eventually migrate to FSA sites to produce the next generations that will help re-populate nearby coral reefs. Remember, we cannot have adults without the juveniles! We must protect their habitats at all life stages.

What do groupers eat?

Their food choices change as they grow and develop. While they are small, groupers eat crabs, shrimp, and squid. As they grow larger, they transition to eating mostly fish.

How do groupers reproduce?

Most species form large aggregations called fish spawning aggregations (FSA) which typically occur during specific times of the year. Each species has a unique time of the year and specific location to aggregate until they spawn, and at some locations various grouper species can overlap. During these FSAs, groupers will release their eggs and sperm high into the water column where they are fertilized and carried by the ocean currents. These reproductive outputs are extremely important to grouper population replenishment and resilience, as it represents the only opportunity that for the grouper to contribute to the next generation.

Why are groupers so important to the marine ecosystem?

Groupers perform a key ecological function as reef predators. This means that they exert a top-down control on some of the components of the marine food web and as a result they help maintain optimal populations of fish that they consume. If these predators vanish, then the lower trophic level fish and organisms can grow and expand out of control which can alter the delicate balance of the food web. This maintains other populations in evolutionary and ecological balance in ecosystems that are productive and can rebound from natural events.

Are there other grouper species besides those featured on this website that I could see or catch in Puerto Rico?

Yes! We have featured what we call “coral reef groupers” which are those associated with shallow (0-30m/100ft) coral reef systems and commonly encountered by fishers, divers and spearfishers. But there are also a few rarer species like the , Comb and Mutton Hamlet in associated habitats as well as deeper water  grouper species like the Misty, Marbled, Snowy, Red and Yellowedge grouper.