Well, technically the goliath grouper is edible, yes, but you’re also unlikely to ever have a taste unless you break the law.
Goliath groupers are extremely large saltwater fishes of the grouper family that can grow over 8ft in length and weigh up to 800lbs, hence the name. They live in shallow tropical waters among coral, but can go pretty deep – goliath grouper can inhabit the waters anywhere between 15ft and 164ft deep. They are found in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Keys (and occasionally the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts) in the USA, the Bahamas, most of the Caribbean, and most of the Brazilian coast, as well as from Congo to Senegal in the eastern part of Atlantic Ocean.
Yet, despite quite the wide habitat area, the population of the goliath grouper isn’t big. In fact, it’s pretty small. Dangerously small. Which brings us to the actual problem with eating goliath grouper.
Goliath Grouper is Perfectly Edible – But It’s Forbidden to Do So in Most of the Areas
Goliath grouper is actually considered to be of fine quality seafood. Which, along with their size, made them a prime target for fishmongers and caused their population to drastically decrease, so much so that in 1990 the US had to put a harvest ban on the species with the Caribbean following suit in 1993, and Brazil in 2002.
According to the old-timers who’ve caught goliath grouper before the ban was placed, it’s a fine-tasting fish comparable to other fish in the grouper family in taste, though the meat may be a little course. It’s a particularly good ingredient for stews and chowders.
While the population is recovering, rising records of poaching, especially in Brazil, do raise several concerns. And attract the foodies who wish to have a taste of this rare fish. So yes, it is possible to try a dish or two made of goliath grouper – and you’ll be perfectly healthy by the end of it – but you’ll have to break the law to do it, and considering the slow rate at which the goliath grouper population is growing, it’s not going to change anytime soon.
How Goliath Grouper Became Endangered
It might seem surprising that this mammoth of a fish that’s an ambush predator at the top of the chain of the reef food chain might be on the verge of disappearance (or close enough), yet it’s a predictable outcome of both laws of nature and human meddling.
Since the goliath grouper are at the top of the food chain, they are naturally rare, to begin with. And while this means throughout most of the year the numbers of goliath groupers sticking together in any one place is quite low, they are still easy targets due to the way they reproduce.
When the time to reproduce comes, goliath groupers come together in large groups that are rarely made up of less than a hundred individuals. There are relatively few places these groups (scientifically referred to as spawning aggregations) come together to spawn, with a singular goliath grouper often having to swim many miles to arrive at the site and form a part of the spawning aggregation.
In other words, the goliath groupers utilize the same few places and same few days a year to spawn, which makes them predictable, and thus, easy targets for fisherman looking to catch them. Add in the natural fearlessness that comes with being at the top of your food chain and the goliath grouper are practically sitting ducks since swimming away as fast as possible isn’t the first thing on their mind when attacked.
This, coupled with the high quality and taste, has naturally led to overfishing, a rapidly declining population, and – in the end – the harvest ban that has been in place for 30 years.
Unfortunately, while the goliath grouper population has been steadily increasing over the years, it has been doing so at quite a slow pace, since its large size, slow growth (the fish reach maturity in about 6-8 years), and ease of capture which encourages poachers, the recovery has been slow, so it’s unlikely that the harvest ban is going anytime soon.
The Best Alternative to Goliath Grouper
While taking a bite out of Goliath Grouper has been forbidden, as mentioned above, it’s said to be quite close in taste with other members of the grouper family – and luckily most of them are completely legal for consumption.
The best alternative among them would probably be the giant grouper (also known as Queensland grouper or mottled-brown sea bass), which is just as highly prized for the quality of its lean but moist flesh and distinct taste. Its flavor is said to be mild but memorable, akin to a mix of bass and halibut.
The Best Ways to Cook a Grouper
Since the distinct taste is giant grouper’s biggest charm, it’s better to cook it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the fish with other ingredients. If you can’t get your hand on giant grouper specifically, they work for other types of groupers as well.
Grilled with Lemon
You’ll only need fresh and cleaned grouper fillets, a lemon, and an Italian seasoning mix along with some salt and pepper.
Put a generous amount of salt and pepper on both sides of the fish, lay the fillets out on the foil drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkle Italian seasoning on top.
Grill either in the oven or outdoor grill for 10 minutes and squeeze a wedge of lemon over it when done.
Seared in a Pan
Grouper is a wonderful fish to pair with pasta due to its mild flavor. Rub salt and pepper over the fillets, lightly dust with flour, and fry in butter and olive oil (yes, both) for 3-4 minutes on each side. Squeeze some lemon over it when you flip the fish (be careful because the juice will start bubbling when it hits the heat).
Up the ante of the previous recipe. Sear the grouper in a pan, cut the fillets into small cubes, and lay them over the pasta.
Drizzle a light lemon or tomato sauce over it and you’re done.