Star-studded Grouper

Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles

The Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles, whose common Spanish is baqueta ploma and whose local name is estacol, 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, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, four in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific.

The Star-studded Groupers have a uniform chocolate brown coloration. Juveniles are chocolate brown and covered with a series of white spots (pictured below). Their caudal and pectoral fins are lighter in color than their anal and pelvic fins. They have large heads and their rear nostril is larger than their front nostril. They have 11 dorsal spines, the second being the longest. They have a dark brown band or mustache above their upper jaw and a thin line at the base of their tail, which are keys to identification.

The Star-studded Groupers are a demersal species found within reefs and sandy bottoms at depths up to 1,500 feet. Adults are found in deeper waters than juveniles. They reach a maximum of 1.21 meters (4 feet 0 inches) in length and 11.4 kg (25 pounds) in weight noting that the current IGFA record is only 98 cm (38.5 inches) in length. Ken Stills has submitted a 95 cm (37 inches) fish caught in coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, in July 2016, that weighed 29 pounds for a new IGFA record. I also have a report of a 20 kg (43 pound 8 ounce) fish that was caught off the Golden Reef, San Felipe, Baja California, in May 2015. And I have another report of a 23 kg (50.3 pound) fish caught in coastal waters off San Felipe in May 2017. 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 ambush predators feeding on small fish and benthic crustaceans. They are a deepwater species and little is known about their behavior patterns.

The Star-studded Grouper is very similar in appearance and can be confused with the Gulf Coney, Hyporthodus acanthistius (nine dorsal spines, third, fourth and fifth being the longest; mustache above upper jaw) and the Olive Grouper, Epinephelus cifuentesi (wide body; eleven dorsal spines, second being the longest; no mustache).

The Star-studded Groupers are a quality food fish but a rare incidental catch by recreational and subsistence fishermen. They are reported to be a by-catch of the deepwater shrimp trawlers in the central Gulf but too rare to be of commercial interest. Unlike most of the other now totally depleted Groupers found within the Sea of Cortez, their population remains fairly stable.

Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles, juvenile. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, February 2014. Length: 4.8 cm (1.9 inches). Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.

Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles, juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, December 2015. Length: 20 cm (7.9 inches). The white spots will fade quickly.

Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles, juvenile. Fish caught from coastal waters within Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja California, December 2015. Length: 36 cm (14 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.

Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles. Fish caught from coastal waters off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, February 2012. Length: 78 cm (31 inches). Catch courtesy of Eduardo Correa, Mexico City.

f047-star-studded-grouper-7Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, July 2016. Length: 82 cm (32 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.

Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, July 2016.  Length: 90 cm (35 inches). Weight: 14.1 kg (31 pounds). Chris has submitted this fish as a pending world record. Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.

f047-star-studded-grouper-5Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles. Fish caught from coastal waters off Loreto, Baja California Sur, April 2016 by Captain Francisco and his son Enzl.  Length: 1.00 meter (3 feet 3 inches). Photo courtesy of Pamela Pelger Bolles, Loreto.

20151228_153436Star-studded Grouper, Hyporthodus niphobles versus Gulf Coney, Hyporthodus acanthistius, color comparisons. Photo courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Fullerton, CA.