Snowy Grouper, Hyporthodus niveatus
The Snowy Grouper, Hyporthodus niveatus, whose common Spanish is cherna pintada, is a species in the Grouper or Epinephelidae Family, known collectively as cabrillas and garropas in Mexico. Globally, there are fourteen species in the genus Hyporthodus, of which seven are found in Mexican waters, four in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific.
The Snowy Groupers have robust compressed oval bodies that are deepest at the origin of their dorsal fin. Adults are dark brown and the edge of their spiny dorsal fin is black. Juveniles are dark brown with prominent white spots in vertical rows on the rear of their head and body extending onto the dorsal fin; these spots fade quickly upon death. Their caudal and pectoral fins are transparent with a yellowish tinge. They have a black saddle on their upper caudal fin base that reaches the lateral line. They have a large terminal mouth equipped with depressed teeth on the sides and roof of the mouth. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 9 rays; their caudal fin is rounded in juveniles and straight to concave in adults; their dorsal fin has 11 spines, with the third or the fourth being the longest, and 13 to 15 rays; and their pectoral fins are behind their pelvic fins. In juveniles the pelvic fins are longer than the pectoral fins. They have 22 to 26 gill rakers and are covered with rough scales.
The Snowy Groupers are found demersal at depths between 100 and 1,600 feet over and within rocky structures. Juveniles are found inshore in waters as shallow as 100 feet. They reach a maximum 1.22 meters (4 feet 0 inches) in length and 30 kg (66 pounds) in weight. They feed on fish, gastropods, cephalopods, and brachyuran crustaceans. They are considered top-level predators and adults are subject to limited predation. Reproduction occurs as sequential hermaphroditism with all fish born as females and changing to males around age 7. Females release pelagic eggs in multiple batches and the larvae are pelagic. They have a lifespan of up to 29 years.
In Mexican waters the Snowy Grouper are found in all waters of the Atlantic.
The Snowy Grouper is an easy fish to identify due to its white spotting pattern. Adults can be confused with the Warsaw Grouper, Hyporthodus nigritus (very long second dorsal spine). They are very similar to, and considered by some scientists to be the same species as, the Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles, from the Pacific.
The Snowy Groupers are the most common groupers throughout their range and considered one of the more important species of groupers in Mexican deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They are a focus of handline, longline (up to 1,200 hooks per set) and gill net commercial fishermen and recreational anglers. They are considered a quality food fish and sold fresh commercially. They are caught at levels of up to 140 metric tons (280,000 pounds) annually in the Gulf of Mexico, with the majority of the catch being older and larger males. The size and age of the landed fish have diminished significantly over the past decade. They are currently listed as Vulnerable, due to significant declines in their population throughout their range. Intensified fishing pressure occurs during aggregation and spawning windows with larger males primarily removed from residual populations. They are a long-lived and non-migratory hermaphroditic species that is very slow to mature. Efforts to regulate the fishery in the United States are in place and include inshore water closures, bans on fishing with bottom gear, establishment of no fishing marine reserves, seasonal closures, and bag limits, however, such controls are absent from other parts of their known range. They are also prone to habitat destruction caused by trawls targeting more abundant species found at similar depths including various groupers and tilefish. At present this species is extinct in some parts of its historical range and scientific monitoring of its status throughout most of its current range is inadequate.
Snowy Grouper, Hyporthodus niveatus. Two photos of the same fish caught from coastal waters off Islamorada, Florida, April 2012. Length: 71 cm (28 inches). Weight: 9.1 kg (20 pounds). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.