In our area, gag grouper have been in the spotlight when studies are performed to determine the value of artificial reefs. Based on some of these earlier studies at the Suwannee Regional Reef System, it was determined that the gag grouper population stands to gain a great deal from these widely-scattered patch reefs. Here's why.
Gag grouper spawn offshore from December to May, with peaks on the full moons between February and early April. After hatching, the baby grouper are carried by wind-driven currents into near-shore seagrass beds and other coastal habitats (see map above).
With the cooler temperatures of fall, the small gag move out of their nursery grounds and into reef habitat on the shallow shelf to mature. At 3-5 years old, they join the spawning stock offshore where they continue to grow to more than 10 years old and an average size of over 40 inches. Scientists suspect that a big challenge in the life of gag is the long move from the sheltered nursery of inshore waters to the offshore spawning grounds. The seafloor in between is relatively flat in most areas and does not provide much in the way of shelter for these valuable, undersized fish. That’s where the Steinhatchee FMA comes in.
The Steinhatchee Fisheries Management Area (SFMA) should be completed in in early 2011 and is intended to help the fish grow faster and increase their chances of reproducing. This means bigger fish and more of them. Across the sandy Gulf bottom, 400 reef patches will be randomly placed in groups of four to increase increase shelter availability and enhance growth for juveniles as they mature and travel to deeper water. Gag are sequential hermaphrodites, beginning life as females and then can change to males, but only if reaching sufficient age. Because most shallow water gag are female and many are immature, it is critical that they are able to grow safely to a large, mature size when movement to deeper water allows spawning to occur.
For more information, contact the Taylor County Marine Extension Agent, Fred Vose at (850) 838-3508 and visit Dr. Bill Lindberg's site at the University of Florida.