Every once in a while we get wind of a oddball fish caught or landed in North Carolina. Today was one of those days! We were forwarded an email from a colleague and friend, Chip Collier, at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, regarding a grouper caught off of Beaufort Inlet. Chip thought it was a Tiger Grouper – Mycteroperca tigris, but this would be fairly far outside its normal range of south Florida. Also, there were these odd looking extensions of its soft dorsal, anal, and caudal fins that needed a closer look. The fish was caught and reported by the angler, James Zimmerman, fishing with Captain Phil Owens.
Below is a CC sourced image of how Tiger Grouper are usually illustrated in guides and posters, try comparing it with the photo above. Note the long fin extensions, and pattern difference.
It turns out that grouper, along with other marine fishes, can change their outward appearance, or what scientists call “phase”. These different phases correspond to different stages in their life history, such as breeding, and can be useful in distinguishing age or reproductive condition of a fish. The fin extensions in this particular fish help distinguish it as a phase one adult Tiger Grouper.
A quick check of some museum records returned no collections of M. tigris in the state, and we believe this is the first record. We definitely didn’t have this species in our fishes of NC list. There were a few records from the Caribbean, including Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Key West. There was also one record from Charleston, South Carolina, but it didn’t have much data associated with it, wasn’t in English, and I’m not sold on its authenticity. It doesn’t appear to be a fish that is reported all that often with only 36 records in fishnet2.net, with only 18 geocoded. When I get the free time, I would like to check the MRIP dataset, but would be surprised to see any.
We would like to thank James Zimmerman and Captain Phil Owens for allowing our use of their photographs, and for providing us this new record!
If you would like to read more about the color phases of grouper, check out the following very helpful paper:
Data obtained from the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philidelphia, California Academy of Sciences, Field Museum, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute – Tissues, MCZ-Harvard University, GBIF-MNHN (Paris), Oregon State University, Royal Ontario Museum, Texas A&M University Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collection, Florida Museum of Natural History, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Yale University Peabody Museum (Accessed through the Fishnet2 Portal, www.fishnet2.net, 1/1/2020).