Gag Grouper

Gag Grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis

The Gag Grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis, whose common Spanish name is abadejo, is a species in the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Globally, there are fifteen species in the genus Mycteroperca, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, seven in the Atlantic and four in the Pacific.

The Gag Groupers have oblong-shaped bodies, which vary in color depending on maturity and sex. Juveniles and mature females are pale to brown-gray with dark blotches and worm-shaped markings affording them a marbled appearance. Their anal, caudal, and dorsal fins have dark blue-black margins. Large males are overall pale to medium gray with very limited markings below the dorsal fin and dark gray to black ventrally. Their anal and caudal fins have white margins and their caudal, soft dorsal, pectoral, and pelvic fins are dark gray. They have long heads with a large mouth featuring a protruding lower jaw and two large canine teeth at the front. Their caudal fin is large and concave.

The Gag Groupers are found in both brackish and offshore marine waters within rocky bottoms at depths up to 500 feet. They are either solitary individuals or found in groups of 5 to 50 individuals. They reach a maximum length of 1.45 meters (4 feet 9 inches) and up to 36.5 kg (80.5 pounds) in weight. They are voracious predators feeding on cephalopods, crabs, shrimp, and fish. In turn they are preyed upon by sharks and other large fish; juveniles can also fall prey to cannibalism. They are protogynous hermaphrodites with females changing to males at mid-life. Spawning occurs in the spring with fertilized pelagic eggs hatching within 48 hours of release. They have a lifespan of at least sixteen years.

In Mexican waters the Gag Groupers are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Gag Grouper can be confused with the Black Grouper, Mycteroperca bonaci (caudal fin with straight margin; dark fin margins).

The Gag Groupers are a targeted species of recreational and commercial fishermen. This species undergoes heavy fishing pressure during spawning periods which has caused a significant decline in mature males; current male populations are thought to be inadequate to maintain the species. Juveniles are also taken in abundance as a by-catch of shrimp fishermen. They are caught with hook and line and marketed fresh. They are known, however to contain Cigua Toxin. From a conservation perspective the Gag Groupers are currently considered VULNERABLE as they are a rare, long-lived, and large species with slow reproduction cycles and growth rates and subject to overfishing. As such they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.

Gag Grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis, Juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key West, Florida, August 2014, Length: 36 cm (14 inches). Photo courtesy of Dean Kimberly, Atlanta, GA.