This ten-inch-long juvenile goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) in the Florida Keys may spend five years among mangroves, relatively safe from predators, before venturing out to the reefs. The species’ survival depends on mangrove forests, which are contending with coastal development.
The goliath grouper is the largest grouper in the western Atlantic. Growing to lengths of 8.2 feet (2.5 m), this grouper can weigh as much as 800 pounds (363 kg). In Florida, the largest hook and line captured specimen weighed 680 pounds (309 kg). The oldest verifiable goliath grouper on record is 37 years. However, this specimen was sampled from a population of individuals depressed by fishing pressure and it is projected that goliath grouper may live much longer, perhaps as much as 50 years. Males achieve sexual maturity at four to six years of age and lengths of 43-45 inches (110-115 cm), females at six to seven years of age and 47-53 inches (120-135 cm). Growth rates are slow, averaging approximately four inches (10 cm) per year until the age of six years. Growth declines to about 1.2 inches (3 cm) per year at age 15, and less than .4 inches (1 cm) per year after 25 years.