Sawtail Grouper

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura

The Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura, whose common Spanish name is cabrilla chiruda and whose local name is cabrilla or cheleta, 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 Sawtail Groupers are tan in color and their bodies are covered with brown oval blotches and round spots that fade with maturity. Their third dorsal spine is the longest, a key. They have a pointed anal fin and a ragged caudal fin.

The Sawtail Groupers are found within rocky reefs and are more common in fields of large boulders with gorgonians and black corals at depths between 25 and 150 feet. They reach a maximum of 1.00 meters (3 feet 4 inches) in length and 15 kg (33 pounds) in weight. A Grouper Family Weight From Length Conversion Table has been included in this website to allow the accurate determination of a fish weight and a return to the ocean unharmed. They are voracious predators, feeding on crustaceans at night and on small fish during the day. They are a very rare species and little is known about their behavior patterns.

In Mexican waters the Sawtail Groupers have a limited range being found only in the Sea of Cortez and are more abundant in the central and northern parts of the range. The fish photographed below documents the presence of this fish in the extreme northern Sea of Cortez.

The Sawtail Grouper can be confused with the Broomtail Grouper, Mycteroperca xenarcha (second to seventh dorsal spines of equal length; caudal fin with jagged rear edge) and the Leopard Grouper, Mycteroperca rosacea (dark gray body with small brown spots; dark saddles and pale vertical lines). The Sawtail Groupers are considered an excellent food fish.

From a conservation perspective the Sawtail Groupers are currently considered as Near Threatened and have been recently upgraded from Vulnerable. They are a rare, large species with slow reproduction cycles and growth rates, and reside in a small geographic range. They are likely protogynous with females changing to males at mid-life. They are a prime target of the sports fishing industry in the central Sea of Cortez, where they are targeted by both commercial and recreational fishermen during spawning aggregations in April and May. Illegal spearfishermen, using hookah breathing apparatus and lights at night, take a significant number of fish. Populations are believed to have declined by at least 30% over the last 10 years. It is anticipated that this population decline will continue.

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura. Fish caught out from coastal waters off Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, May 2003. Length: 60 cm (24 inches). Weight: 6.5 kg (14 pounds). Fish identification courtesy of Mike Kanzler, Isla San Marcos, Baja California Norte.

Sawtail Grouper

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura. Fish caught from coastal waters off Rocky Point, Sonora, May 2014. Length: 70 cm (28 inches). Weight: 7.5 kg (16 pounds). Photos courtesy of Ted and C.J. Miller, Rocky Point. Fish identification courtesy of Robert Moore, Gilbert, AZ and reconfirmed by H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA. A difficult identification due to the tail margin which is very similar to a Broomtail Grouper, Mycteroperca xenarcha.

Sawtail Grouper (3)

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, April 2015. Length: 62 cm (25 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto.

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura, Juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters off  Loreto, Baja California Sur, August 2014. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto.

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura. Fish caught out of coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, April 2016. Length: 51 cm (20 inches).

Sawtail Grouper, Mycteroperca prionura. Fish caught out of coastal waters off San Ildifonso Island, Baja California Sur, May 2016. Length: 53 cm (21 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Hank Ellwood, San Carlos, Sonora.