Many species of snapper and grouper grow slowly, aren’t able to mature until late in life, and live a long time. These species take longer to reproduce and replenish their population, and often take years to fully recover from overfishing. Many groupers, including gag, are protogynous hermaphrodites, changing from females to males when they reach a certain age and size. They also spawn together in large groups, making them easy to catch in large numbers. Managers consider these traits when developing regulations for the fishery — for example, the shallow water grouper fishery is closed during their spawning season to protect these sensitive fish while they reproduce.
- Ocean perch
- Sea Bass
- Turbot (Greenland)
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Grouper, Velvet Rockfish, Small-scaled Rockfish
U.S. wild-caught from North Carolina to Texas
- FISHING RATE
- HABITAT IMPACTS
Click the icons to learn more about each criteria
Gag in its reef habitat.LAUNCH GALLERY
Gag is one of the most abundant groupers in the Southeast and is harvested in U.S. waters from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico. Most of our commercial harvest comes from the west coast of Florida, with smaller amounts from North and South Carolina and Florida’s east coast.
While gag is abundant in the South Atlantic, the population has declined in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly due to a major “red tide” event (an algal bloom that releases potent neurotoxins) in 2005. The Gulf stock is now overfished (below sustainable population levels) and fishing rates are too high to allow the stock to recover quickly enough. Managers recently implemented a rebuilding plan for the stock. The plan includes a number of measures for the commercial and recreational gag fisheries, including annual catch limits, that will manage harvest at a level that will allow the overfished stock to rebuild to target population levels by a specified deadline.
Managers have also responded to reported overfishing in the South Atlantic, recently reducing the annual catch limit to prevent future overfishing. When this annual catch limit is harvested, the fishery for all shallow water groupers, including gag, is closed.
LOCATION & HABITAT
Gag is found in the western Atlantic, primarily from North Carolina to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Juveniles are found as far north as Massachusetts. Young gag live in estuaries in “structured” habitats (seagrass beds, oyster reefs, shipwrecks, etc.). Adults live offshore and prefer hard bottom habitat including reefs and wrecks, coral and live bottom, and depressions and ledges.
Gag grow slowly, up to more than 3 feet and 50 pounds, and can live a long time, to about 30 years. Gag are “protogynous hermaphrodites” – they begin life as females and sexually mature, usually around age 4. As they grow older, they change to males, around age 11.
Gag spawn from mid-January to early May in the South Atlantic and from late January to mid-April in the Gulf of Mexico. They spawn in groups along the continental shelf. Females spawn several times per season. They release between 60,000 and 1.7 million eggs each time they spawn.
Gag eat a variety of fish, crabs, shrimp, and squid. Adult gag and large fish prey on juvenile gag. Sharks and other large fish prey on adult gag.
Gag have long, compressed bodies. Their coloring varies 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 dark brown or charcoal kiss-like marks along their sides. Gag’s species name, microlepis, is derived from the Greek words "micro" for small and "lepis" meaning scale, in reference to the small scales of this fish.
Gag are often confused with black grouper; however, the gag’s tail and anal fins have white edges, whereas black grouper do not.
There are two stocks of gag, one in the South Atlantic and one in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists from NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center monitor the abundance of these populations. Scientists, managers, and stakeholders assess the status of these stocks through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process. The South Atlantic population was assessed in 2006. The Gulf population was also assessed in 2006, with an update in 2009.
According to the latest assessment in 2006, the South Atlantic gag stock has been increasing since the 1990s and is now at 94 percent of the target population level. When they last assessed the Gulf of Mexico stock in 2009, scientists found abundance has declined and is currently at 39 pecent of the target population level.
Harvesting Gag Grouper
Commercial fishermen mainly use vertical hook-and-line gear to harvest gag, and some also use longlines and spears. Sea turtles and other reef fishes, such as snappers and groupers, can be incidentally caught while fishing for gag. Management prohibits the use of trawl gear, fish traps, and bottom longlines (in some areas) in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to reduce bycatch, and several areas are also closed to all fishing to protect snappers and groupers. In certain areas of the South Atlantic and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen are required to use circle hooks and dehooking devices to improve the chance of survival of any unintentionally caught fish. In the Gulf of Mexico, they’re also required to use venting tools when necessary. (When reef fish are brought quickly to the surface by hook-and-line, the gas in their swimbladders can overexpand. Venting tools help deflate the expanded abdominal cavity, preventing serious injury to the fish and making it easier for them to return to deep water.) Commercial and charterboat/headboat reef fish fishermen must use appropriate release gear and follow handling protocols to increase the chance of survival for any incidentally caught sea turtles.
Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils
Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region
- Annual catch limits; the entire shallow water grouper fishery now closes when the gag annual catch limit is harvested or when an aggregate quota for gag, black grouper, and red grouper is harvested.
- A minimum size limit to prevent harvest of immature gag.
- A number of gear requirements and restrictions help reduce bycatch and protect habitat.
- Both the commercial and recreational fishing seasons are closed from January through April to protect all shallow water grouper during their spawning season.
- Commercial fishermen must have a permit to fish, land, or sell snapper/grouper species. Managers limit the number of available permits to control the number of fishermen harvesting these species.
- Eight “marine protected areas” closed to fishing for and possession of snapper and grouper to protect a portion of the population and habitat of long-lived deepwater snapper-grouper species.
Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan
- Annual catch limit allocated between the commercial and recreational fisheries.
- An individual fishing quota program allocates the commercial catch among commercial fishermen. Fishermen may harvest their individual allocation whenever they choose and must report how much they harvest through a strict reporting program.
- Restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish to reduce bycatch.
- Minimum size limit to protect immature gag.
- Area closures for both commercial and recreational sectors to protect spawning groupers.
Gag is an important commercial species in the South Atlantic. In the snapper grouper fishery, only landings of black sea bass and vermilion snapper have exceeded gag in recent years. Since 2000, commercial landings of gag have been fairly stable, ranging between 476,000 and 712,000 pounds per year. Since 2009, management has limited the annual commercial catch to 352,940 pounds to prevent overharvest.
In the Gulf of Mexico, since 2004 both commercial and recreational gag landings have generally declined, except for a slight increase in 2008.
The 2010 commercial harvest of gag was valued at more than $3.9 million.
Gag makes up a large part of the recreational harvest in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. In the South Atlantic, recreational fishermen are limited to one gag per day. Gag must be above a minimum size to be landed. The recreational fishery is closed with the commercial fishery during the spawning season (January–April). A portion of the annual catch limit is allocated to the recreational fishery. If managers project the recreational catch limit will be reached, the recreational fishery is closed (if gag is overfished) or the next year’s limit is simply reduced (if gag is not overfished).
In the Gulf, recreational fishermen are limited to two gag per person per day and may only fish during the established fishing season. Gag must be above a minimum size to be landed. The recreational fishery is allotted 61 percent of the annual catch limit. If the limit is exceeded or projected to be exceeded during the fishing year, fishing for that species will be prohibited for the remainder of the year. Also, if the limit is exceeded the amount of the overage is deducted from the following season.
Groupers and sea basses belong to the Serranidae family, one of the largest and most widely distributed families of fish. Red grouper is the most well-known grouper in the market, but gag is popular as well. Gag is sometimes mistakenly referred to as black grouper (Mycteroperca spp.). The two species look similar and, to add to the confusion, gag has traditionally been called black grouper in some areas.
Grouper has a mild but distinct flavor, somewhere between bass and halibut. Once the skin is removed from the fish, it’s hard to tell red grouper and gag apart, but gag has firmer meat when it’s fresh. The raw meat of both is white and lean. When cooked, the meat stays white, and is very firm, moist, and flaky. (Seafood Business, 2011)
Grouper is low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, and potassium, and a very good source of protein and selenium.
|Serving Weight||100 g (raw)|
|Fat, total||1.02 g|
|Saturated fatty acids, total||0.233 g|
|Sugars, total||0 g|
|Fiber, total dietary||0 g|
Gag Grouper of Nutrition