Gulf Fish Species

Black grouper illustration
Black Grouper
  • Black grouper grow up to five feet long and can weigh up to 180 pounds.
  • They can live up to 30 years old.
  • They begin life as a female and some change into males as they grow – usually between two and four feet in length or 11 and 14 years old.
  • The overall sex ratio is generally one male for every four females.
  • Black grouper are solitary fish until spawning season, May through August, where they aggregate and spawn in huge numbers.
  • Eggs are fertilized externally, and float with the currents.
  • Young black grouper feed on crustaceans, mostly shrimp.
  • Adults feed on other fish and squid.
  • Black grouper have large, powerful jaws that they use to ambush their prey.
  • They do not have teeth, and instead use their mouth and gills to suck up their prey.
  • They also have teeth plates inside their throat that prevent prey from escaping after being swallowed.
Red Grouper

Size: Up to 42 inches (50 pounds); common to 20 inches (15 pounds)

Bottom-dwelling fish found over hard and muddy bottoms. Juveniles found offshore along with adults greater than 6 years old. Fish from 1 to 6 years occupy nearshore reefs.

Spawn in April and May. Prefer water temperatures between 66 and 77 degrees F. Like many other grouper, red grouper undergo a sex reversal, young individual females becoming males as they age.

Gag Grouper
  • Gag grow slowly, can reach more than 3 feet in length, and weigh up to 50 pounds.
  • They can live as long as 30 years.
  • They are protogynous hermaphrodites – they begin life as females and sexually mature around age 4. As they grow older, they change to males, around age 8.
  • They spawn from mid-January to early May in the South Atlantic and from late January to mid-April in the Gulf of Mexico. Gag spawn in large groups along the continental shelf. Females spawn multiple times per season, releasing between 60,000 and 1.7 million eggs each time they spawn. 
  • They eat a variety of fish, crabs, shrimp, and squid.
  • Adult gag and large fish prey on juvenile gag.
  • Sharks and other large fish prey on adult gag.
Black sea bass
Black Sea bass
  • Black sea bass grow slowly, up to 2 feet and 9 pounds.
  • They are able to reproduce when they reach 1 to 3 years old.
  • They are protogynous hermaphrodites—most black sea bass start out as females, and as they mature and grow they become males. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens, but one hypothesis suggests the relative scarcity of males in a spawning group may be the stimulus for a female to switch sex.
  • Black sea bass spawn in coastal areas from January through July.
  • Males gather a group of females to mate with and aggressively defend their territory.
  • Depending on their size, females can produce between 30,000 and 500,000 eggs in a spawning season.
  • Females can live up to 8 years; males live up to 12.
  • Black sea bass eat whatever prey is available, but they especially like crabs, shrimp, worms, small fish, and clams.
  • Little skate, spiny dogfish, monkfish, spotted hake, and summer flounder all feed on black sea bass
  • Cobia are the only member of the family Rachycentridae in North America.
  • They grow up to 6 feet and 100 pounds and live up to 12 years.
  • They are able to reproduce when they are young—females mature at age 3 and males mature at age 2.
  • Cobia spawn in coastal bays and estuaries several times throughout their spawning season, which lasts from late June to mid-August in the Southeast and from late summer to early fall in the Gulf of Mexico. Females release between 375,000 and 2 million eggs each time they spawn.
  • They are strong, aggressive predators, mainly feeding on crustaceans but also fish and squid. Larger pelagic fish prey on young cobia.
King Mackerel
  • King mackerel grow fast, up to 5 ½ feet and 100 pounds.
  • They can live more than 20 years.
  • They are able to reproduce when they reach 2 years of age.
  • There are two distinct populations, one in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Atlantic.
  • They spawn on the outer continental shelf from May through October. Females release eggs in the open water, where they are fertilized.
  • Females grow much larger than males, an evolutionary strategy that maximizes the amount of eggs that a female can produce. Females can produce 50,000 to several million eggs.
  • King mackerel are carnivores, feeding on fish, squid, and shrimp. They’re voracious feeders and have been observed leaping out of the water in pursuit of prey.
  • Juvenile and larger pelagic fish feed on smaller king mackerel. Bottlenose dolphins and large fish, such as sharks and tunas, feed on adult king mackerel. 
Red snapper
Red Snapper
  • Red snapper grow at a moderate rate, and may reach 40 inches long and 50 pounds.
  • They can live a long time—red snapper as old as 57 years have been reported in the Gulf of Mexico and as old as 51 years in the South Atlantic.
  • Females are able to reproduce as early as age 2.
  • Males and females spawn from May to October, depending on their location.
  • Red snapper feed on fish, shrimp, crab, worms, cephalopods (octopus or squid), and some plankton (tiny floating plants and animals).
  • Young red snapper are food for the large carnivorous fish that share their habitat, such as jacks, groupers, sharks, barracudas, and morays.
  • Large marine mammals and turtles also eat snapper.
Illustration of a lane snapper showing important characteristics
Lane Snapper

Size: Usually less than 14 inches (1 pound)

Coastal waters near structure. Most common in south Florida. Juveniles found inshore over grass beds or shallow reefs.  


Spawn March to September. Sexually mature at 6 inches. Feed on the bottom, eating crustaceans, mollusks, and fish.

Mangrove Snapper

Size: Offshore catches common to 10 pounds.

Where Found: Juveniles inshore in tidal creeks, mangroves, and grass beds; adults generally nearshore or offshore on coral or rocky reefs.

Greater Amberjack

Where Found: Offshore species associated with rocky reefs, debris, and wrecks, typically in 60-240 feet of water; sometimes caught nearshore in south Florida; juveniles associate with floating objects and may occur in water less than 30 feet deep.

Size: Common to 40 pounds.