The goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) is a species of critically endangered fish found in many coral reefs and mangrove forests. This species is one of the largest predators on coral reefs and along mangrove forests in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the largest groupers in the world.
The goliath grouper, like most groupers, is an ambush predator and eats fairly large fishes and invertebrates and even small sharks. Reefs with large numbers of predators, like goliath groupers, are known to be healthier than reefs with no predators so this species may represent an important part of the reef food web. Atlantic goliath groupers feed by swallowing their prey whole; they do not chew. They use their very large mouths to create enough pressure to suck in whole fish or large invertebrates, and they swallow them quickly and efficiently.
Though they were likely naturally rare, scientists believe that destructive fishing practices have reduced the numbers of goliath groupers by at least 80% and that the species is now critically endangered. These fish utilize the same, few locations and same, few days for spawning every year, so their presence is quite predictable. Furthermore, a total lack of fear of people makes them an easy target for spear fishers.
A closely related species, the Pacific Goliath Grouper, is restricted to the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Peru. Scientists only recently divided the species into two, based on their slightly different genetic makeup.
The goliath grouper’s large size, slow growth, and ease of capture all contribute to slow its recovery, even where laws have been put in place to give it some or complete legal protection from fishing.