When we think of the grouper fish, many of us would think of its delightful flavour and succulent texture as a dish on our dining tables – especially when prepared in the Cantonese style (steamed in light soya sauce, garnished with spring onion and cilantro, an exquisite platter. Yum!).
However, how much do we truly know about this category of fish? In this post, we take a closer look at this species; so take a deep breath and get ready to plunge into the depths of the ocean with us.
There are actually countless types of groupers in the world. These are one of the many amazing marine animals which divers like to look out for when diving near coral reefs.
To name some offhand, there is the Leopard grouper, the Atlantic grouper and the more famous Goliath grouper, which you would be able to pay a visit to at the S.E.A. Aquarium.
The Groupers are cunning predators and would usually hide in wait for its prey in the coral reefs. Once the prey swims close, the grouper sucks it into its mouth using its powerful gills and crushes it with the heavy plates in its larynx.
Their strong jaws allow them a wide variety of prey, such as smaller fishes, octopuses and crustaceans. They can even use their mouths to build a shelter for themselves by digging through sand with their mighty mouths and jetting it out from their gills. Amazing, isn’t it?
Did you also know that most groupers are hermaphrodites? They are born females and mature as females, but have the ability to choose to either retain or change their sex after maturity.
Groupers are highly sought after as food, for their flesh is highly nutritious, of excellent quality and can be cooked in many ways. It can be steamed, deep fried, grilled, pan seared, baked and so on, and each preparation method produces a mouth-watering dish.
This high demand for its meat coupled with the misconception that fish meat is good for health has led to overfishing and the grouper’s decline.
As one of the top ocean predators, they are an important part of the eco-system, by preventing overpopulation of fish lower down the food chain.
As apex predators, groupers are already naturally uncommon. Moreover, its bulky physique and territorial nature make it difficult for the grouper to escape from the few predators it has, especially man.
Its plight is worsened by the fact that its reproduction rate is slow, taking years to reach maximum size and maturity, so overfishing of young fish before they can reproduce can result in serious decline in their numbers.
What can we do to help protect these amazing animals?
We can start helping spread the message that populations of groupers are declining to our friends and family.
For regular grouper eaters, cut down on our intake of ocean caught groupers. And that’s also because it could be beneficial to our own health.
Although fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, all fish contain some amount of mercury, with a higher content the higher up you go in the food chain (the grouper is classified as an apex predator).
Mercury we consume builds up in our bodies and can lead to brain and kidney damage. Hence, pregnant women and young children should avoid eating fish high in mercury content while others should eat at most three servings per month.
The next time you are at a fine dining restaurant, try ordering fishes from sustainable sources. Not only would you give the grouper a chance to replenish their population, it might also prove beneficial to your health further down the road.
To get a different view of the grouper, catch this predator in action at the Open Ocean Habitat of the S.E.A. Aquarium today.
About the authors
Agatha and Yan Ling are students from Millennia Institute who writes for MI Wired, an online platform for students to showcase their writing. They are advocates for social and environmental causes.