Red Grouper

Red Grouper Image

Epinephelus morio


    Grouper, Cherna Americana, Negre


    U.S. wild-caught from North Carolina to Louisiana



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Red grouper swims through its reef habitat.

Red grouper swims through its reef habitat.


Prized for its availability, flavor, and size, red grouper is harvested in both commercial and recreational reef fish fisheries in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Grouper live a fairly long time and are protogynous hermaphrodites (changing gender from female to male), so they're vulnerable to fishing pressure. Red grouper fisheries in the United States are managed to prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished populations. 

Declared overfished in 2000, Gulf of Mexico red grouper rebuilt to target population levels in 2007, under strict regulations that limited harvest and controlled the amount of fishing. The commercial fishery for red grouper in the Gulf of Mexico is also now managed under an Individual Fishing Quota program (IFQ; a.k.a. catch shares). With the support of fishermen and other stakeholders, managers implemented this program to reduce the number of fishermen and improve the operation of the fishery. Under the program, managers set a limit on the amount of red grouper that can be caught every year, then allocate fixed shares of this amount to eligible fishermen. Fishermen can harvest their share whenever they choose, slowing the pace of the fishery and easing the pressure on the resource. Managers review the success of this program after it's been in operation for a few years, and they expect that IFQs will improve the fishery's profitability and working conditions and reduce bycatch. 

Looking ahead

In addition to their importance as a popular seafood dish, grouper play a significant role in their underwater environment by acting as “marine engineers.” Red grouper excavate flat bottom areas and create habitat for themselves and other commercially important species, such as spiny lobster, black grouper, red porgy, and vermilion snapper. LEARN MORE disclaimer



Red grouper are found in the Western Atlantic from Massachusetts through the Gulf of Mexico and south to Brazil. Red grouper is a shallow-water grouper – they’re common in waters 10 to 40 feet deep. Juveniles prefer grass beds, rock formations, and reefs in shallow, nearshore waters. Red grouper move offshore from shallower reef environments as they mature. Adults are most commonly found around ledges, crevices, and caverns of rocky limestone reefs, and also near lower-profile, live-bottom areas. Adults may school or move together as groups, but only for short distances.



Red grouper grow slowly. At their largest, they can be up to 50 inches long and more than 50 pounds. The oldest red grouper on record in the South Atlantic was 26 years old; the oldest recorded in the Gulf was 29. Red grouper spawn frequently, close to 26 times a year, in shallow waters from February through June. They are protogynous hermaphrodites – red groupers begin life as females and sexually mature when they reach 4 to 6 years of age; some later transform into males, most often between the ages of 7 and 15. The proportion of males in the population increases with age.

Red grouper are among the top predators in reef community food webs and may control some aspects of community balance in reef systems. Red grouper are "unspecialized and opportunistic feeders" – they eat any convenient prey. They engulf prey whole by opening their large mouths, dilating their gill covers, rapidly drawing in a current of water, and inhaling the food. Red grouper feed on a wide variety of fish, octopus, and crustaceans, including shrimp, lobsters, and stomatopods. The same predators that eat snappers prey on smaller grouper, including jacks, other groupers, sharks, barracudas, and morays. Large sharks and carnivorous marine mammals prey on adult red grouper.



Red grouper have a robust body with small scales. Their head and body are dark reddish brown, shading pink or reddish below with occasional white spots on the sides and black spots on the cheeks. They have large mouths with their lower jaw often projecting slightly beyond their upper jaws, bands of slender, sharp teeth, and usually a few stout fixed canines. Their large mouths allow them to eat their prey whole.



There are two stocks of red grouper, 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 Gulf of Mexico population was last assessed in 2009; the South Atlantic population was assessed in 2010.



According to the 2009 stock assessment, Gulf of Mexico red grouper has generally been increasing in abundance since 1986. The stock has declined a bit since 2005, possibly due to a red tide event that occurred that year. Despite this event, the stock did not decline below the "overfished threshold" (the level scientists have determined to be unsustainable) and the population is currently at 86 percent of the target level. In 2012, managers  increased the Gulf of Mexico red grouper annual catch limits.

According to the 2010 assessment, the South Atlantic red grouper population is no longer overfished, but biomass is less than the level required to fully rebuild the stock. The rebuilding plan for this stock is scheduled to be in place until 2022.


Harvesting Red Grouper

Commercial fishermen mainly use hook-and-line gear, including longlines and handlines, to harvest red grouper. Sea turtles and other reef fishes, such as snappers and groupers, can be incidentally caught while fishing for red grouper. 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 encouraged to use venting tools or other tools such as a fish descender 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 of any incidentally caught sea turtles.



Who's in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils

Current management:

South Atlantic: Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region

  • 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.
  • Annual catch limits for red grouper for the commercial and recreational fisheries; these fisheries are closed when their annual catch limit is projected to be met.
  • A minimum size limit to reduce harvest of immature red grouper.
  • Gear restrictions to reduce bycatch and protect habitat.
  • Eight "marine protected areas" are 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.
  • An area known as the Oculina Experimental Closed Area off the east coast of Florida is closed to fishing for and possession of all snappers and groupers to protect deepwater coral habitat and the reef fish it supports.
  • Both the commercial and recreational fishing seasons are closed from January through April to protect all shallow water grouper during their spawning season.
  • In 2011, NOAA Fisheries implemented a rebuilding plan for red grouper in the South Atlantic. Actions have been taken to end overfishing and rebuild the stock. Red grouper are no longer overfished; however, the 2010 stock assessment indicates biomass is less than the level required to fully rebuild the stock.

Gulf of Mexico: Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan

  • Commercial vessels must have a reef fish permit and IFQ quota to harvest red grouper.
  • Annual catch limit allocated between the commercial (76 percent) and recreational (24 percent) fisheries.
  • Individual fishing quota program (IFQ; a.k.a. catch shares), which allocates the commercial catch limit among individual fishermen. Fishermen may harvest their allocation whenever they choose to do so and must report how much they harvest. This program includes controls that do not allow fishermen to harvest more than their individual allocation.
  • Restrictions on the type of gear fishermen may use and where they can fish, to reduce bycatch.
  • Minimum size limit to protect immature red grouper.
  • Year-round and season area closures for both commercial and recreational sectors to protect spawning groupers.
  • Commercial data reporting requirements.

State fisheries management agencies generally have compatible regulations for fisheries operating in state waters (out to 3 miles in the South Atlantic and out to 9 miles in the Gulf of Mexico).


Annual Harvest

Most commercial harvest of red grouper comes from the Gulf of Mexico. The commercial harvest in the Gulf of Mexico totaled 5.2 million pounds in 2012, and was mainly caught off the west coast of Florida. Harvests in the South Atlantic have remained lower than in the Gulf of Mexico. The 2012 South Atlantic harvest was 155,821 pounds, mainly caught off North Carolina and South Carolina. 



Red grouper is highly valued for its flavor and size. The 2012 domestic commercial harvest was valued at nearly $17 million. The United States also imports grouper, mainly from Mexico.



Red grouper is a popular fish among recreational fishermen in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, and a portion of the total allowable catch is allocated to the recreational fisheries in these areas. Recreational fisheries for red grouper are managed through permits and licenses, catch limits, size limits, bag limits, and seasonal and special closures. For example, red grouper must be equal to or larger than a minimum size to be landed, and fishermen may not catch more red grouper than the bag limit allows. Annually, the South Atlantic recreational and commercial fisheries are closed during the January through April spawning season, and the Gulf of Mexico recreational fishery is closed during the February through March spawning season. Measures are in place to ensure catch limits are not exceeded, and if limits are exceeded the fishery may be closed or the catch limit may be reduced the following year.



Groupers and sea basses belong to the Serranidae family, one of the largest and most widely distributed families of fish. Grouper has a mild but distinct flavor, somewhere between bass and halibut. Red grouper is the most well-known grouper. Once the skin is removed from the fish, it’s hard to tell red grouper and black grouper apart. The raw meat of both is white and lean. When cooked, the meat stays white, and is very firm, moist, and flaky. Black grouper has firmer meat when it’s fresh. Red grouper is sweeter and milder than black grouper, and many consider red grouper the tastier of the two.






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.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g
Calories 92
Protein 19.38 g
Fat, total 1.02 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.233 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 37 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 53 mg

Red Grouper Table of Nutrition