Why is this Fish Smiling? Goliath Grouper Removed from Species of Concern List by NOAA Fisheries Service.

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
March 7, 2006 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Why is this Fish Smiling? Goliath Grouper Removed from Species of Concern List by NOAA Fisheries Service

Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara)

Range – Historically documented to occur from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico, although the bulk of the species abundance appears to exist from the Palm Beach area through the Florida Keys, and along the west coast of Florida.

Size - Can reach a maximum length of 8 feet and weigh up to 880 pounds.

Life expectancy – 35+ years

Habitat – Mangroves are thought to be the primary habitat for juveniles (up to 3 feet). Adults are often found on artificial reefs, overhangs, bridges, piers, and shipwrecks.

After being protected from harvest by fishermen since 1990, NOAA Fisheries Service announced last week that it has removed goliath grouper (formally known as jewfish) from its species of concern list. A recent status report showed a significant increase in abundance in the U.S. population, with goliath grouper populations re-establishing themselves throughout their historical range. The good news is a result of protective measures established by both state and federal agencies. However, under the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation Act, goliath grouper are still considered overfished and harvest is still prohibited. The species of concern list was created by NOAA Fisheries Service in 2004 to identify marine species scientists have concerns about regarding status and threats, but lack sufficient data to list them under the Endangered Species Act. Twenty-five marine species, including goliath grouper, were originally included on the list. Both commercial and recreational fishermen have harvested goliath grouper since the 1800’s, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s and early ‘80s that catches began to increase substantially for these large, long-lived groupers. Advances in electronics allowed fishermen to locate and target aggregations, market prices increased, and spearfishing became more popular.


The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council first took management measures to protect goliath grouper in March 1983 by prohibiting spear- fishing for the species. In 1990, both the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, along with the state of Florida, prohibited all harvest of goliath grouper. The South Atlantic Council’s goal was to reserve these fish for non-consumptive use. Goliath grouper are popular attractions to reef divers who wish to view and photograph these large, docile creatures. The recreational diving community has long supported the prohibition of harvest, touting the benefits of having goliath grouper present for viewing by the dive charter business and for individual viewing enjoyment. "Those of us on the Council today are proud of the many Council members who have been working toward restoration of goliath grouper populations for more than a quarter of a century and the success they have achieved," said Dr. Louis Daniel, Chairman of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. "This is a great example of what managers can do through cooperation with commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, and the marine conservation community." Dave Allison of the ocean advocacy group Oceana congratulated the Council and NOAA Fisheries Service on the success and for their effective use of the best available science in the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The South Atlantic Council continues to address the management of goliath grouper and other species in its jurisdiction, moving toward an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. Ultimately, by broadening the scope of management, the Council will achieve long-term sustainability of fisheries and the ecosystem as a whole.


  • Early in its history, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council first recognized the value of goliath groupers to the ocean and to the people who live in and visit the Atlantic coast, from the Carolinas to the Florida Keys.
  • Targeted for years by commercial and recreational fishermen, populations of goliath grouper – then known as "jewfish" were collapsing.
  • In 1990, the South Atlantic Council recognized that the highest and best use of goliath grouper was non-consumptive use by divers, snorklers, and the ocean ecosystem. The Council took the initiative to close all commercial and recreational harvest of goliath grouper.
  • NOAA Fisheries recently announced that goliath grouper populations have recovered significantly enough to remove this iconic animal from its species of concern list.
  • The goliath grouper population is still depleted and at risk from poaching, habitat destruction, and other environmental impacts. Harvest continues to be prohibited.
  • This is a success story for the Councils, NOAA Fisheries, the state of Florida, and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
  • For additional information, visit: NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center, SEDAR Assessment

NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office, Status Report on Goliath Grouper (PDF)