Rock Hind, Epinephelus adscensionis
The Rock Hind, Epinephelus adscemsionis, whose common Spanish name is cabrilla payaso, is a species in the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Globally, there are one hundred species in the genus Epinephelus, eleven of which are found in Mexican waters, six in the Atlantic and five in the Pacific.
The Rock Hinds have robust compressed strong bodies that are deepest at the dorsal fin origin. They vary in color from tan to yellowish-brown to greenish on their head and body and are covered with reddish-brown spots, which become larger ventrally, and scattered pale blotches. Most fish have one to four dark saddles along the top of their back. They also have a black blotch on top of their caudal fin base; some fish have a dark stripe that runs from their snout through and behind their eyes. Juveniles have fewer but larger and more prominent pale and darker spots with two dark saddles on their upper back and one on their caudal fin base; their caudal fin is yellow and lacks spotting. Their head has a large terminal mouth equipped with thousands of small, rasp-like teeth on both jaws and on their tongue and palate. Their gill covers have 3 flat spines with the middle one being the largest. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 8 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; their dorsal fin has 11 spines and 16 to 18 rays with the fourth or fifth spine being the longest; and their pelvic fins are shorter than the pectoral fins and originate behind the pectoral fin base. Their body is covered with smooth scales.
The Rock Hind is a reef associated solitary species found at depths up to 1,100 feet. Juveniles move to deeper waters as they mature. They are fast growing and reach a maximum 61 cm (24 inches) in length and 4.4 kg (9.7 pounds) in weight. They feed primarily on crabs and small fish. Reproduction occurs in small haremic groups via protogynous hermaphroditism with females changing to males at midlife. They have a lifespan of up to thirty-three years but most do not live past ten years.
In Mexican waters the Rock Hind are found in all waters of the Atlantic.
The Rock Hind is most likely confused with the Red Hind, Epinephelus guttatus (tail with black margin but without spots; no black saddle on caudal fin base; smaller stature).
The Rock Hinds are currently considered of Least Concern from a conservation perspective, largely due to their wide distribution in the Atlantic, however, as they are reef associated, habitat destruction is of concern to their long-term viability. They are also fished heavily by both commercial and recreational fishermen and represent the majority of shallow water catch in many locations. They are difficult to approach and will avoid divers. They are considered a quality food fish and marketed fresh, however, they are also prone to Cigua Toxin contamination. They are found in shallow waters making them very accessible as evidenced by stocks being depleted in several areas, thus their overall populations are in decline.
Rock Hind, Epinephelus adscemsionis, juvenile transitioning to female. Fish caught from coastal waters of the Florida Middle Grounds. Length: 28 cm (11 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.