Scamp, Mycteroperca phenax

The Scamp, Mycteroperca phenax, whose common Spanish name is abadejo garropa, 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 Scamps are small groupers that have elongated robust compressed fusiform bodies. They have four color phases: the brown phase when their head and body are pale brown and covered with small reddish brown spots that extend onto their pectoral and pelvic fins; the “cat’s paw” phase (pictured below) when they have several clusters of dark brown spots resembling cat paw prints on their sides; the large adult and gray-head phase when the rear two-thirds of their body is dark and their head and front portion of their body are silvery gray with dark reticulations; and the bicolored phase where the pale brown anteriorly abruptly changes to dark chocolate brown posteriorly. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 10 to 12 rays; their caudal fin is strongly concave with rays projecting unevenly beyond the end; and their dorsal fin has 11 spines and 16 to 18 rays. Their body is covered with rough scales.

The Scamps are found in reef environments and over rocky bottoms at depths between 100 and 330 feet. Juveniles can be found in shallow waters around jetties and within mangrove areas. They reach a maximum of 1.07 meters (3 feet 6 inches) in length and 14.2 kg (31 pounds) in weight. They frequent areas where the Oculina coral thrive and are voracious ambush predators feeding on small fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. They are aggregating spawners with females significantly outnumbering males indicative that they are protogynous hermaphrodites who change from female to male at mid-life. Each female releases between 1.3 and 10.5 million eggs per annum. They have a lifespan of up to thirty years.

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

The Scamp, due to its multiple coloration, is very similar to six groupers of the Mycteroperca genus found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic: the Black Grouper, Mycteroperca bonaci, the Gag Grouper, Mycteroperca microlepis, the Tiger Grouper, Mycteroperca tigris, the Western Comb Grouper, Mycteroperca acutirostris, the Yellowfin Grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa, and the Yellowmouth Grouper, Mycteroperca interstitialis. Correct fish identification requires consultation with someone having knowledge of the groupers in the area or about the differences in the groupers of the Mycteroperca genus.

The Scamps are popular game and commercial fish. In some areas they have some protection through a limit on commercial fishing permits, seasonal closures, minimum size catch restrictions, and area closures. They are heavily fished which makes potential overfishing of concern, however, they have a wide distribution range and are currently considered to be of Least Concern from a conservation perspective. In addition, the Oculina banks in which they reside are threatened by bottom trawlers. In a study conducted between 1979 and 1997 the median length of a Scamp decreased by 7%, there was a 60% reduction in fish over 10 years of age indicating that the abundance of larger females who produce more eggs had significant diminished, and there was a significant reduction in the male population. They are considered excellent table fare.

Scamp, Mycteroperca phenax, juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters off Key Largo, Florida, December 2013. Length: 13.4 cm (5.3 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.

Scamp, Mycteroperca phenax, cat’s paw phase. Fish caught out from coastal waters off the Florida Middle Grounds, December 2013. Length: 58 cm (23 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.