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            Tuesday, October 9, 2007

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Jewfish, painting by Rose Escalante
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Jewfish, painting by Rose Escalante, from Animals of the Reef
Epinephelus itajara
Other Names: goliath grouper, spotted jewfish, southern jewfish, Florida jewfish

There is no such thing as sea monsters, but there are indeed critters of monstrous proportions that live in the sea. We feature one such denizen of the deep here - fishermen and divers still encounter the jewfish them on a fairly regular basis.

Like all members of the grouper family, jewfish love structure - rocks, ledges, culverts, pipes, bridge pilings, shipwrecks and countless others all are potential home to these giants. In fact, jewfish are notorious for taking up residence very close to land.

Juvenile jewfish (20-80 pounds) are occasionally caught by bottom fishermen, and often are mistakenly identified as "nice grouper" and taken home to eat.

Big jewfish are usually quite friendly around divers. They’re often curious and seem to be interested in what you’re doing. It’s very tempting to try to feed them, but please beware - that is a big mouth and it does have some teeth. Some wrecks have "resident" jewfish that regular visitors to the site become very attached to. Both diver and fish seem to learn to recognize one another after a few encounters. The really massive jewfish are usually content to lie in their grotto and peer out, content in their role as "biggest kid on the block".

What do jewfish eat? Annnnyyything they want... okay I’ll spare you that old line. Mostly small fish, squid, crustaceans and such. They’re not very picky eaters, and whenever you combine fishermen, divers and "sea monsters", tall tales of digestive excesses are bound to pop up. I know of one reliable report that tells of finding a cormorant, which is a type of diving bird, inside a jewfish’s stomach. This happened in the days when jewfish were legal to keep.

Just how big do they get? At least 750 documented, scale-weighed pounds. That’s the biggest I know of that’s actually been caught (Again, many years ago). I remember this critter being about 7-7 1/2 feet long. How big can they get? This question will trigger a lot of stories and tall tales among the locals, but there’s no set answer to it. There’s no way to weigh a fish underwater and harvest is closed for this species, so we’re left to rely on divers’ estimates of size. Remember, water imparts a 25 percent magnification factor. Imagination accounts for another ten, and if the diver is also a fisherman, all bets are off.


Painting by Rose Escalante              
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