Gag Grouper

Gag Grouper

Scientific Name

Mycteroperca microlepis

Stock Status

Overfishing – Yes

Overfished – Yes

Stock Assessment


2023 Regulations

Recreational Commercial

Open September 1 – 12:01 AM on November 10,2023.

 If landings reach the recreational ACL, harvest will be prohibited for the remainder of the fishing year.

Season Gag grouper is managed under an individual fishing quota (IFQ) program. Anyone commercially fishing for gag grouper must possess allocation and follow established protocols.
Minimum Size Limit 24 inches total length Minimum Size Limit 24 inches total length
Bag Limit 2 per person within the 4 grouper aggregate bag limit which includes gag, red grouper, black grouper, scamp, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, speckled hind, and warsaw grouper. No grouper may be retained by the captain or crew of a vessel operating as a charter vessel or headboat. Trip Limit none
Permit State issued recreational license/angler registry, federal angler registry or Federal charter/headboat permit for reef fish Permit Commercial vessel permit for reef fish is required. Additionally, an eastern Gulf reef fish bottom longline endorsement required to use bottom longline for Gulf reef fish in the federal waters east of 85°30′ longitude.
Gear Non-stainless steel circle hooks are required when fishing with natural baits. At least one dehooking device is required and must be used to remove hooks. Gear Non-stainless steel circle hooks are required when fishing with natural baits. At least one dehooking device is required and must be used to remove hooks.

Harvest Limits

Sector Annual Catch Limit Annual Catch Target
Stock 3,120,000 pounds (ACL reduction expected for 2023)
Commercial  1,217,000 pounds gutted weight 939,000 pounds gutted weight
Recreational 1,903,000 pounds gutted weight 1,708,000 pounds gutted weight




Gag grouper, or just “gag”, is typically found from North Carolina south to the Yucatan Peninsula.  There have been records of gag seen in Cuba, Bermuda and Brazil; however, they are rare.  Juveniles range as far north as Massachusetts.  Gag are absent in the Caribbean and Bahamas.  Coloration varies on gag depending on sex and age.  In general, gag is a gray to light brown with darker wavy markings that create a marbled look on the sides of the body.  Gag and black grouper look very similar.  The key difference between the two is a bone on part of the cheek region.  The preopercle, shaped like a boomerang, is the front most bone of the gill plate.  On a gag, it is angular with a serrated spur while on a black grouper it is evenly rounded.


Maximum observed age:  31 years1

Age at maturity:  ~ 3 to 4 years1

Maximum weight:  80.47 pounds (36.5 kilograms)2

Maximum length:  57.09 inches (145 centimeters)3

Life History and Distribution

Adults prefer coastal water structures such as reefs and rocky bottoms at depths up to 500 feet (152 meters).  Adults can be solitary or school in groups of up to 50 individuals.  Gag is commonly seen on rocky ledges in the Gulf of Mexico.  Spawning season and peak spawn times vary depending on the region.  Gag form spawning aggregations offshore in winter and early spring.  Females do not remain offshore year-round but instead, will form groups to migrate offshore to the males when it is time to spawn.4 Gag is a broadcast spawner with external fertilization, meaning males and females emit eggs and sperm into the water column during spawning.  Juveniles shelter in seagrasses, mangroves and oyster reefs before they become old enough to migrate offshore.  Gag displays protogynous hermaphroditism, meaning they begin life as females first then a portion of the population transitions to male.


  1. SEDAR 33 Stock Assessment Report: Gulf of Mexico Gag Grouper, 2014
  2. IGFA All Tackle Record, Destin, Florida
  3. IGFA, 2001. Database of IGFA angling records until 2001. IGFA, Fort Lauderdale, USA.
  4. Kobara, S., B. Erisman, W. Heyman, C. Biggs, N. Farmer, S. Lowerre-Barbieri, M. Karnauskas, and J. Brenner. 2017. Cooperative monitoring program for spawning aggregations in the Gulf of Mexico: data portal. Version 1.0 GCOOS, USA.