Grouper

Epinephelus spp.

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — All applicable methods
Capture area — Worldwide (FAO All Areas)
Stock area — All Areas
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Grouper

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2020

Grouper species are, in general, fish to avoid. They are: largely overfished; highly valuable; of high commercial demand; assessed as vulnerable to highly vulnerable to overfishing; have very low to low resilience to fishing pressure; not managed; and can be caught with fishing methods detrimental to their vulnerable reef habitat and other marine species. A large number of commercially exploited stocks lack quantitative assessments and reliable estimates of stock status and around 90% of grouper fisheries have no fishing mortality information.

Many species are listed as Endangered to Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Despite their economic importance, few grouper fisheries are regularly monitored or managed at the species level, and many are reported to be undergoing declines. For data limited fisheries, effective management of many species is often challenged by the limited quantity and quality of information available. Some species in some areas may be fished sustainably, but MCS is not aware of any sustainable fisheries.

Biology

Groupers belong to a large group of fish known as Serranidae. They are a territorial, mainly shallow water species, they exist as a high trophic level and many species form spawning aggregations where males and females aggregate in large number at often well-known locations. This makes them highly vulnerable to commercial fishing. Almost all species are sequential hermaphrodites, changing from females to males at some point in their lifecycle. This makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing, as the smaller the average size of the population, the less likely individuals are able to reach a balanced breeding population.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Grouper fisheries are valuable resources with high commercial value and high demand in major international markets. Groupers have very low to low resilience and high to very high vulnerability to fishing pressure. Many species are overfished and assessed as ‘Threatened’ to ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Therefore, MCS considers there to be concern for both fishing pressure and biomass.

Groupers are large predatory coral reef fishes, and described as rare or commercially extinct. They are generally considered as ‘exotic’ fish, as most are imported into the United Kingdom from countries including the Canary Islands, Seychelles, United States of America, the Middle East, Far East and the tropics in general. Around half of grouper fisheries are classified as overexploited and ~20% fully exploited. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), groupers contributed more than 275,000 tonnes to global capture fisheries production in 2009, which represented an increase of nearly 25% from the previous decade (approximately 214,000 tonnes in 1999) and was more than 17 times the capture production reported in 1950 of approximately 16,000 tonnes.

The status of many grouper fisheries is unknown and notable declines in populations have been documented in many regions. Groupers are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation due to their slow growth rate, late maturity, sporadic reproduction and recruitment, and vulnerability during spawning aggregations. According to the most recent assessment available from the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 12% of the total global grouper species (Epinephelinae subfamily: 163 species) were classified in threatened categories (Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable), 13% were considered to be Near Threatened, and 44% of Least Concern, while 30% of the species were considered as Data Deficient, preventing adequate evaluation. This underpins the urgent need for a better global evaluation of the sustainability status of these fishing resources. Very few fully quantitative stock assessments have been conducted on grouper fisheries, and those that have mainly focus on North America (United States management areas).

For the majority of countries, including the top producers, grouper fisheries have no information on the sustainability status of these important resources, or, in some cases, the status is unknown or undefined. In addition, knowledge about fishing pressure in grouper fisheries worldwide is also very limited: ~90% of the fisheries for which data is compiled have no fishing mortality information available.

ReefCheck surveys indicate that overfishing is occurring in the Caribbean. Large groupers are uncommon or absent on a number of reefs, and some species were absent altogether. A number of species appeared to be subject to overfishing.

Reef fish such as grouper are vulnerable to local depletion. Greater declines in abundance are usually seen in areas of high population or at spawning aggregation sites.

A small number of grouper landings have been recorded in the UK (Source MMO data). Between 2012 and 2019, 0.575 tonnes of Dusky Perch, also known as Dusky Grouper, Epinephelus marginatus, was landed by UK vessels, originating from the northern Bay of Biscay (Division 8a), South West Ireland (Division 7j), and most recently (2017) from the North East region of the UK (Division 4b). Dusky perch is listed as an ‘Endangered’ species by the IUCN and would receive a default red rating by MCS, alongside any other grouper species listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Management

Criterion score: 1 info

As a global assessment for all species of grouper, specific management measures for individual fisheries or countries have not been confirmed or evaluated. While there are a few known exceptions, for the vast majority of grouper fisheries there is no relevant of effective management.

Grouper fisheries are classified as data limited fisheries. Effective management of many species is often challenged by the limited quantity and quality of information available. Life-history information, fishery-independent data, and species-specific catch data are very expensive and time-consuming to obtain and a large number of commercially exploited stocks lack quantitative assessments and reliable estimates of stock status. For groupers, fishery-dependent data (for example stock status and fishing pressure data) on which to make many local fishery management decisions are severely limited, and several years of data collection may be required in order to implement optimally-designed management measures.

There are, however, management plans for grouper in some areas worldwide; specifically, for the protection of spawning aggregations. Intense exploration of aggregations can lead to local extirpation of species. In the context of managing fish spawning aggregations, this often means establishment of seasonal fishery closures or permanent no-take zones. For example, in Kubulau District, Bua Provence Fiji, communities have banned any grouper catch during August. There are recommendations for minimum and maximum landings sizes (by species) in the Maldives that are being variously adopted by local grouper cage managers. There are also 5 statutory closed grouper spawning sites in the Maldives that were established in 2013. There are also size limits on grouper in quite a few countries to ensure fish have had the chance to reproduce before they are fished. However, implementation of management can be challenging, and the effectiveness of these plans are unknown.

A ban on the harvest of all large-bodied grouper species may be necessary to help to re-establish populations and self-sustaining spawning aggregations.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 1 info

Grouper can be caught using almost any fishing methods, some of which, can be detrimental to their vulnerable reef habitat and other marine species.

A wide variety of fishing gears such as spearguns, traps and handlines are used in reef fisheries throughout the world. Groupers are typically shot out of reefs by commercial spearfishing, caught using hand-lines, or removed as targets of cyanide fishing for the live-fish trade (e.g., South East Asia).

The use of cyanide and other poisons kills other marine life and can degrade corals, coral reefs and impact both target and other not target marine species. Cyanide fishing involves spraying a sodium cyanide mixture into the desired fish’s habitat in order to stun the fish. Grouper are also sometimes caught using explosives which are extremely damaging to reef habitats.

Spearfishing is one of the most common, yet controversial, forms of fishing on coral reefs. It is highly selective, both in terms of species and size and thus has minimal direct impact on non-target species. Additionally, breath-hold spearfishing is limited to shallow water, so the proportion of target fishes available to spearfishers is typically less than the proportion available to users of other gear types such as traps and lines. Nevertheless, spearfishing is often perceived to be more efficient (in terms of CPUE) and thus more destructive to fish populations than alternative gear types. Spearfishing also allows the targeting of keystone species such as herbivorous parrotfishes, which have critical ecosystem functions in maintaining reefs in a coral dominated state. For these reasons, the legitimacy and desirability of spearfishing have often been questioned, and appeals for stringent regulation or prohibition have emerged in developed and developing countries.

Fishing with hook and line (handline, tolling, lures, rod and reel) is one of the most sustainable and species selective fishing methods available, and has no impact on the seabed.

UK landings of Dusky Perch (Epinephelus marginatus) by UK vessels, have been caught by a variety of fishing gears including: gill or fixed nets in the Bay of Biscay; hooks and lines in south west Ireland; and pots and traps in UK inshore waters of the North Sea (Source MMO data).

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

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Capuli, E. and Luna, S. (2020). Epinephelus marginatus. Available at https://www.fishbase.in/summary/Epinephelus-marginatus.html [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Capuli, E. (2020). Epinephelus lanceolatus. Available at https://www.fishbase.de/summary/Epinephelus-lanceolatus.html [Accessed 05.11.2020]

CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2020). What is the demand for fish and seafood on the European market? Available at https://www.cbi.eu/market-information/fish-seafood/what-demand [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Coleman, F., Koenig, C. and Collins, L. (1996). Reproductive styles of shallow-water groupers (Pisces: Serranidae) in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the consequences of fishing spawning aggregations. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 47(2), pp.129–141. Available at 10.1007/BF00005035 [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Darwin Fish Reef Project (2011). MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR THE MALDIVES GROUPER FISHERY Marine Research Centre, Maldives & Marine Conservation Society, UK. Available at https://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/coral_reefs/Maldives_Grouper%20_fishery_Management_Plan.pdf [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Dingham, P. (2016). You should have seen the one that got away! 30-stone grouper – one of the biggest ever caught goes on sale Manchester. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4030244/30-stone-grouper-fish-goes-sale-Manchester.html [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Dulvy, N., Freckleton, R. and Polunin, N. (2004). Coral reef cascades and the indirect effects of predator removal by exploitation. Ecology Letters, 7(5), pp.410–416. Available at https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2004.00593.x [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Fennessy, S., Pollard, D. and Samoilys, M. (2018). Epinephelus lanceolatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T7858A100465809. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T7858A100465809.en [Downloaded on 05 November 2020]

Fox, M., Naisilisili, W., Batibasaga, A. and Jupiter, S. (2012). Managing fish spawning aggregations Opportunities and challenges of managing spawning aggregations in Fiji. Proceedings of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, Cairns, Australia, 9-13 July 2012 19D Managing fish spawning aggregations. Available at http://www.icrs2012.com/proceedings/manuscripts/ICRS2012_19D_2.pdf [Accessed 05.12.2020]

Frisch, A., Cole, A., Hobbs, J-P., Rizzari, J. Munkres, K. (2012) Effects of Spearfishing on Reef Fish Populations in a Multi-Use Conservation Area. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51938. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051938. Available at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051938&type=printable [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Harrington, R. (2016). The Manchester Giant Grouper. Available at https://www.mcsuk.org/blog/post/blog-manchester-grouper [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Harmelin-Vivien, M. and Craig, M. (2015). Epinephelus marginatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T7859A44904558. Available at https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/7859/44904558 [Downloaded 05.11.2020]

Hodgson, G., Hill, J., Kiene, W., Maun, L., Mihaly, J., Liebeler, J., Shuman, C. and Torres, R. (2006). Reef Check Instruction Manual: A Guide to Reef Check Coral Reef Monitoring. Reef Check Foundation, Pacific Palisades, California, USA. Available at https://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/images/stories/pdfs/2006%20Reef%20Check%20Instruction%20Manual%20with%20covers.pdf [Accessed 05.11.2020]

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Kadison E, Brandt M, Nemeth R, Martens J, Blondeau J, Smith T (2017). Abundance of commercially important reef fish indicates different levels of over-exploitation across shelves of the U. S. Virgin Islands. PLoS ONE, 12(7): e0180063. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180063. Available at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0180063&type=printable [Accessed 05.11.2020]

Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, Matthew T Craig, Athila A Bertoncini, Kent E Carpenter, William W L Cheung, John H Choat, Andrew S Cornish, Sean T Fennessy, Beatrice P Ferreira, Philip C Heemstra, Min Liu, Robert F Myers, David A Pollard, Kevin L Rhodes, Luiz A Rocha, Barry C Russell, Melita A Samoilys and Jonnell Sanciangco (2011). Fishing groupers towards extinction: a global assessment of threats and extinction risks in a billion dollar fishery. Fish and Fisheries, 10.1111/j.1467-2979.2011.00455.x. Available at https://sites.wp.odu.edu/GMSA/wp-content/uploads/sites/756/2016/03/Sadovy_etal_2012.pdf [Accessed 05.11.2020]