Family: Serranidae, SEA BASSES AND GROUPER
The gag grouper (Mycteroperca microlepis) is a drab, mottled gray fish lacking the distinguishing features of other groupers. It has a pattern of markings which resemble the box-shaped spots of the black grouper. It lacks the streamer-points on the tail fin that scamp (Mycteroperca phenax) and Yellowmouth grouper (Mycteroperca interstitialis) have and lacks yellow coloration around the mouth.
Ten- to twenty-pound (5 to 10 kg) fish are common. The world record is 80 lb. 6 oz. (36.45 kg). The gag grouper is a bottom feeder and is often caught by fishermen seeking bottom-dwelling species such as snappers. It has flaky white meat that is considered quite delicious.
Members of this species are known to be (protogynous hermaphrodites), schooling in harems with the most aggressive and largest females shifting sex to male, probably as a result of behavioral triggers, when there is no male available. Commercial and sport fishing have created tremendous selective pressures against the largest animals, typically male, restricting the reproductive capacity of the entire breeding population. Recently, a small closure in the Gulf of Mexico was established to provide this and other species a refuge from commercial fishing pressure, however, this data is highly in dispute and is currently being challenged for inaccuracies. They are found in hard bottom with an uneven bottom. Things they like are ledges, rocks, coral reefs, etc. They also like structure, like wrecks, artificial reefs, and sunken barges.
Similar Fish: black grouper M. bonaci.
Where found: adults OFFSHORE over rocks and reefs; juveniles occur in sea grass beds INSHORE.
Remarks: forms spawning aggregations in water no shallower than 120 feet in Middle Grounds area, January through March; current research to identify similar aggregations off Atlantic coast is ongoing. Young gags are predominantly female, transforming into males as they grow larger; feeds on fish and squid. The gag has its home in shallow, coastal waters and on the banks and reefs.
The gag grouper looks and taste very similar to black grouper and you will find both sold under the same name "Black". Gag grouper tend to be a coastal fish, while large black grouper can be found at more than six hundred feet, but the smaller black grouper are often found it shallow water and it takes an experienced eye to tell the difference.
Distribution: Southern part of the western Atlantic, north to North Carolina.
IGFA: all-tackle record is 80.6 lbs. caught in Florida.