The Goliath Grouper lives up to its name as one of the largest species of bony fish. Native to South Florida and beyond, these fish are some of the most sought-after in the sea.
You may be surprised by just how big these creatures can get. So, what’s the biggest grouper ever recorded?
How Big Can a Goliath Grouper Get?
Goliath Grouper are long, thick, robust fish that can reach up to eight feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds. Today, Goliath Grouper are protected under federal law and cannot be captured or killed for recreation or distribution.
If you catch a Goliath Grouper, you cannot lift it out of the water for photographs. Recent catches have all had photoshoots in the water.
The Goliath Grouper is not a friendly fish. Large Goliath Groupers have hunted humans and even attempted to attack them—they are big enough to consume a human if compelled.
They are solitary fish and do not usually travel in schools.
Because the Goliath is so solitary and intolerant, it is impossible to know just how big they can get.
Why Are Goliath Groupers So Big?
The simple answer to why Goliath Groupers are so massive is evolution. Initially discovered in 1822, the Goliath Grouper has evolved to reach the top of the food chain.
Before they reach sexual maturity (more on that later), the predators of the Goliath Grouper are barracuda, king mackerel, and moray eels.
By the time they reach full maturity, the only predators of the Goliath are humans and large species of sharks.
The Goliath Grouper is at the top of the food chain in its habitat, so it is no wonder that they reach such massive sizes.
Goliath Groupers have a generally long lifespan. It takes several years for them to reach sexual maturity.
All Goliath Groupers begin life as female but become male as they mature. The average female reaches about 4.6 feet and carries millions of eggs each year.
Goliath Groupers are brown and white, with white dots concentrated near the head. Some have a yellowish tint. The biggest Goliath Groupers on record are brown or brownish-yellow.
Young Goliaths have more distinct coloring and five large bands wrapped around the body. The older a Goliath gets, the less visible the bands are.
These fish have small eyes and massive jawbones that extend almost to the fins. While they have sharp teeth and a strong jaw, they consume prey by swallowing them whole.
One of the main reasons for the Goliath endangerment is the destruction of their habitats. Regarding size, this means they are not growing at a healthy rate.
Goliaths prefer shallow, reefy waters no deeper than 150 feet.
Young Goliaths especially thrive in mangrove environments, where mud and bottom feeders are easily accessible.
Goliaths are one of the only Grouper species that survive in brackish water. They are incredibly protective of their refuges and scare intruders with loud sounds and open mouths.
Despite how scary they look, Goliath Groupers usually do not eat other large fish—and have not been known to eat humans.
The typical Goliath diet includes:
- Calico crabs
- Small or medium-sized fish
They do not hunt for fast-moving fish, such as snapper. The Goliath Grouper diet is gradually getting more and more scarce as their habitats shrink—without proper food, Goliaths are not growing to full size.
Diet has one of the most impactful effects on the Goliath population. Since the largest Goliath on record experienced capture in 1961, Goliaths have consistently endured hunting from humans.
Hunting has led to a decline in resources and natural habitats for Goliaths, leading to short lifespans and small sizes.
World Record Goliath Grouper Catches
As of 2021, the largest Goliath Grouper recorded caught in the wild is 680 pounds on the Southern coast of Florida. Anglers reeled the Grouper in May of 1961.
In June 2021, another group of fishermen in Florida caught an almost-as-gargantuan Goliath that weighed in at about 500 pounds.
Although the 1961 record still reigns supreme, there are a few other insanely prolific Goliath Grouper catches in history.
600-Pound Goliath Grouper on the West Coast, 1900
An experienced angler caught the biggest Goliath Grouper on the West Coast in 1900. According to the newspaper reporting the fish, the beast delivered quite a fight.
The angler is called Mr. Kishlar, with no first name available. Kishlar began fishing with white fish as bait and almost immediately got a bite. When he tried to reel in the nibbler, chaos ensued.
Eventually, another fisherman shot the fish with a rifle so the anglers could get it on board. After they managed to get it on the scale, the monstrous fish measured 600 pounds.
583-Pound Goliath Grouper in Florida, 2020
This record-breaking catch is magnificent in several ways—for one, this is the biggest Goliath Grouper ever caught by a woman. Another reason is that the angler was only 16 when she captured it!
Reegan Werner reeled in the grouper on a deep-sea fishing trip with her dad in 2020. The Goliath ended up being a whopping 85 inches long and 583 pounds.
It took about 15 minutes to reel the fish close to the boat. Due to Florida laws prohibiting keeping the Goliath, Reegan got it close enough to measure, snapped a photo, and released it into the ocean.
680-Pound Goliath Grouper in Florida, 1961
This Goliath Grouper is likely to remain the largest ever caught in Florida. Lynn Joyner of Fernandina Beach reeled the Goliath in after a fight of over an hour.
He and other huntsmen got the fish on deck with a wrecker they found on the shore. This catch is the most substantial-in-size species ever caught on rod and reel. The final measurements of the Goliath were 680 pounds and seven feet.
Goliath Groupers are some of the most incredible fish in the sea. These giants have a reputation for lurking around boats in shallow waters, too, so keep an eye out next time you are on the water—you may see one!
While Goliath Groupers are only one type of grouper, there are many other types that can also get pretty large. Check out our article explaining the different types of grouper right here.
Remember, though, that as of 2021, you cannot kill or keep a Goliath Grouper if you catch it in Florida. Always check local laws and ordinances to ensure you are following regulations.