Graysby, Cephalopholis cruentata

The Graysby, Cephalopholis cruentata, whose common Spanish name is cherna enjambre, is a member of the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Globally, there are twenty-six species in the genus Cephalopholis, five of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.

The Graysbies are small groupers with thick robust oblong bodies. Their head, body, and fins are gray, brown or olive and covered with orange-brown spots; most fish have four black or white spots along their upper back. They have a relatively large head, a long snout, a large terminal mouth, large noteworthy lips, and finely serrated rounded gill covers. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 8 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin has a deep notch with nine spines and 13 to 15 rays; and their pectoral fins are longer than their pelvic fins. They have 18 to 21 gill rakers. Their body is covered with rough scales.

 The Graysbies are found in and around coral reefs and within Thalassia seagrass beds at depths up to 550 feet. They reach a maximum length of 43 cm (17 inches) and weight of 1.1 kg (2.4 pounds). They are secretive solitary non-migratory fish with a limited home range and retreat to the cover of ledges and caves within coral reefs during daylight hours. They are nocturnal carnivores and ambush predators that feed on small fish (focusing on the Brown Chromis, Chromis multilineata) and to a lesser extend on crustaceans including crab and shrimp. In turn they are prey upon by larger fish and sharks. They are sequential hermaphrodites with each individual changing from female to male at midlife. Females typically outnumber males by 6 to 1. Males form harems and protect them vigorously. Each female releases between 260 and 600 eggs annually which are fertilized externally by males. They have a lifespan of up to thirteen years.

In Mexican waters the Graysbies are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Graysby can be easily confused with the Coney, Cephalopholis fulva (small dark-edged blue spots covering body) and the Red Hind, Epinephelus guttatus (dark margins on anal, caudal, and dorsal fins).

The Graysbies are caught with some frequency by recreational anglers but the majority are released. They are a minor target of commercial fishermen utilizing hook and line, traps, and spears but not heavily pursued due to their small stature. Typically, only larger males are retained which will eventually have strong adverse effects on the long-term viability of this species. There are also reports that they are contaminated with Cigua Toxin. They are generally friendly toward divers but not readily available as they hide deep in reef structures during daylight hours. Although currently abundant and widely distributed, the loss of coral reef habitat is a major threat to their long-term viability.

Graysby, Cephalopholis cruentata. Fish caught from waters of the  Florida Middle Grounds, March 2014. Length: 24 cm (9.5 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Graysby, Cephalopholis cruentata. Fish caught from coastal waters off Islamorada, Florida, April 2012. Length: 25 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.