South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Grouper, Red

Red grouper hooked at the surface of green water.

Grouper, Red

Epinephelus morio
All areas are closed for recreational fishing.
All areas are closed for commercial fishing.

Red grouper are easily recognized by their color and by the sloped, straight line of their spiny dorsal fin. The fin has a long second spine and an unnotched membrane. Most epinepheline groupers have a notched dorsal spine membrane and a third spine longer than the second. The body is deep brownish-red overall, with occasional white spots on the sides. Tiny black specks dot the cheeks and operculum. The red grouper is most closely related to the Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus, which has several vertical bars and blotches and is found more commonly on coral reefs in the West Indies.

Red grouper are distributed from North Carolina to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The species is most abundant along Florida’s east and west coasts, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. It inhabits ledges, crevices, and caverns of rocky limestone reefs and  lower-profile, live-bottom areas in waters 10 to 40 feet deep. The red grouper is a protogynous hermaphrodite and females are capable of reproducing at 4 years of age. Spawning takes place from March to July. Females usually release an average of 1.5 million pelagic eggs that remain at the surface for 30-40 days before settling to the bottom. The maximum age of red grouper is 25 years, with older fish reaching a size of 32.5 inches and 25 pounds. Red grouper usually ambush their prey and swallow it hole, preferring crabs, shrimp, lobster, octopus, squid and fish that live close to reefs.

This species is one of 10 grouper included in the shallow water grouper complex, which can be tricky to differentiate. Check out the Shallow Water Grouper Species ID Guide for photos and tips on how to identify these species.



  • Season is currently closed.
  • Season Closed: January 01, 2024 – June 01, 2024
  • 3 Aggregate Limit
  • 3 Bag Limit
  • Min. Size: 20 in Total Length
  • Notes:

    This species is part of the shallow water grouper spawning season closure: January 1 through April 30, except for red grouper harvested in federal waters off the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina, which remain closed until June 1.

    Shallow-water Grouper: gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, and yellowmouth grouper. 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.

    Federally Permitted Charter/Headboats must have the following on board:

    • The 2019 version of the NMFS document titled “Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury” (document may be electronic).
    • NMFS sea turtle handling and release guidelines placard
    • Required release and handling gears

    See Snapper Grouper Sea Turtle and Smalltooth Sawfish Release Gear Requirements for more information.

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

    Learn how to help more released fish survive and share what you’re seeing on the water by visiting the Best Fishing Practices and SAFMC Release webpages.

    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