South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Grouper, Gag

Grouper, Gag

Grouper, Gag

Charcoal belly, Mycteroperca microlepis
Recreational
All areas are open for recreational fishing.
Commercial
All areas are open for commercial fishing.

Gag grouper have long, compressed bodies and 11 to 14 rays in the anal fins. Coloration is highly variable in gag and changes with the size of the fish. Large gag are dark brownish-gray above and paler below, with traces of dark wavy markings on the sides. Smaller fish are much lighter and have numerous dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along the sides. The scamp, M. phenax, and black grouper, M. bonaci, closely resemble the gag and often occur in the same habitat. Gag have deeply notched preopercles, distinguishing them from black grouper.

The gag grouper is the most widely distributed grouper in the region, with adults present from North Carolina to Brazil over low- and high-profile hard bottom in waters 60-500 feet deep. The species is found in the Gulf of Mexico but not in the West Indies. Young gag inhabit estuaries from Massachusetts to Cape Canaveral. Spawning takes place in February off the coast of the Carolinas and in January through March in the Gulf of Mexico. Gag are protogynous hermaphrodites, which means they begin life as females; however, after a few years of spawning, some gag groupers change sex to become males. 50% of females mature at 24″ Total Length (TL) and 3 years of age. All fish less than 35″ TL are female, while most gag over 45″TL are males.

Gag may live for 26 years and grow to be 58 inches in length and weigh up to 81 pounds. Gag often congregate around rocky ledges and swim in small groups. They are predators of round scad, sardines, porgies, snappers, grunts, crabs, shrimp and squid.

Note: Gag are often confused with black grouper. One distinguishing characteristic is based on the color of the fin margins. The caudal (tail) and anal fins of the gag have white margins, while the black grouper does not.

Regulations

NC, SC, GA, FL

  • Season is currently open.
  • Season Closed: January 01, 2023 – April 30, 2023
  • 3 Aggregate Limit
  • 1 Bag Limit
  • Min. Size: 24 in Total Length
  • Additional Licenses Required: Beginning July 1, 2020, anglers intending to land this species in Florida are required to sign up as a Florida State Reef Fish Angler if they fish from a private recreational boat and are 16 years of age and older. To sign up, call 1-888-347-4356.
  • Notes:

    No more than 1 Gag or 1 Black Grouper per person per day (not both) A descending device is required on board all vessels fishing for or possessing snapper and grouper species in federal waters of the South Atlantic. The descending device must be readily available for use and attached to at least 16 ounces of weight and at least 60 feet of line. Get more information at Best Fishing Practices Webpage

    Must be landed with head and fins intact.

    If you are bringing fish back to the U.S. from the Bahamas by water, please see Bringing fish back from the Bahamas.

    Federally Permitted Charter/Headboats: -If a federally permitted vessel fishing in federal waters catches a species that is closed to harvest in federal waters, the vessel is not allowed to retain that fish. -If a federally permitted vessel fishing in state waters catches a species that is closed to harvest in federal waters but open in state waters, the vessel is not allowed to retain that species. -If a federally permitted vessel fishing in federal waters catches a species that is closed to harvest in state waters but open to harvest in federal waters, they may retain that fish if they do not stop to fish in state waters when returning to port. All gear must be stowed.

    For more information on management of South Atlantic federal fisheries, please visit SAFMC or NOAA Fisheries.

    To see commercial regulations, download Fish Rules Commercial App for iOS devices or Android devices.

  • Gear Description: Allowable gear includes vertical hook-and-line, including hand line and bandit gear, and spearfishing gear without rebreathers. When fishing for or possessing snapper grouper species in federal waters of the South Atlantic, the following regulations apply: (1) Use of a dehooking tool is required. (2) The use of non-stainless steel hooks is required when using hook-and-line gear with natural baits. In waters North of 28-degrees N. latitude, the use of non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks is required when fishing for snapper grouper species using hook-and-line gear with natural baits. (3) A descending device is required on board all vessels and must be readily available for use (attached to at least 16 ounces of weight and at least 60 feet of line). See below for more details.

Amendments in progress

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