Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

We take a look at a group of fish called, well, grouper.

 

2-3‘Grouper’ actually refers to a number of different, but related, large fish notable for their stout bodies and big mouths. Sport fishermen love groupers, because as bottom dwellers, these fish pose a particular challenge as they like to back themselves in amongst rocks and debris on the ocean floor, making it a battle of wills. They’ll do this even after they’ve been hooked, so the fisherman has to carefully ‘work’ it out without snagging or snapping the line.

      Groupers are now also being farmed in some areas around the world, including here in Thailand. So while some types of fish are becoming scarcer or even disappearing from market shelves, grouper is actually being seen more often. This is a welcome development, because groupers are good eating.

      More than 40 species of groupers exist in Thai waters, and many of these species have been farmed in Thailand for some time now. They are fast-growing, making them a perfect farm fish. These species are cultured in cages along the coastal areas of eastern and southern Thailand, in response to the high demand for these fish in domestic and international markets. Unlike most other fish species, which are chilled or frozen, groupers are usually sold live in markets.

      The cage culture of groupers followed the decline of the shrimp-farming industry. Since 1990, many shrimp farms were forced to stop their operations because of diseases and environmental problems. And so farmers began to culture brackish water fish (sea bass) and marine fish (groupers) in the former shrimp ponds.

     Groupers can be quite large, and lengths of over a metre, and weights of up to 100kg are not uncommon, though obviously in such a large group, species vary considerably. They swallow prey rather than biting pieces off it, as they don’t have many teeth on the edges of their jaws, but they have heavy crushing tooth plates deeper inside their mouths. Grouper habitually eat fish, squid and crustaceans, and while some species prefer to ambush their prey, others are active predators.

      Their mouths and gills form a powerful sucking system that sucks their prey in from a distance. They also use their mouths to dig into sand to form shelters under big rocks, jetting the sand out through their gills. Their gill muscles are so powerful, it’s nearly impossible to pull them out of a cave if they feel threatened, as they extend those muscles to lock themselves in.

       Grouper can grow to impressive sizes, and several have hit news headlines. A newspaper reported a 180kg grouper being caught off the waters near Pulau Sembilan in the Straits of Malacca, in January 2008. A Shenzhen newspaper reported that a 1.8m grouper swallowed a white-tip reef shark at the Fuzhou Sea World aquarium. And in September 2010, a Costa Rican newspaper reported a 2.3m grouper in Cieneguita, Limon. The weight of the fish was 250kg and it was lured using one kilo of bait. More recently, in November 2013, a 310kg grouper was caught and sold to a hotel in Dongyuan, China.

         Grouper goes well with a range of seasonings and can be enjoyed in many delicious ways, from grilled or fried to barbecued, baked or sautéed.

         Now while beasts like these prove that some groupers are living to a ripe old age at sea, it’s good to know that this fish species is being farmed, making it a sustainable and guilt-free seafood delicacy, and by enjoying a delicious piece of grilled grouper, you’re not contributing to the demise of a species.

         

Rosanne Turnert


 


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