The honeycomb grouper is one of the most widely-distributed and common groupers in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. A robust-bodied predatory fish, its body is around a third deep as it is long and the wide tail fin is distinctively rounded (1)(3). The head, body and fins are all a pale colour and covered in dense, dark brown spotting, with the pale spaces between the spots forming a honeycomb pattern (1)(3). This spotting becomes lighter and more widely spread on the underparts and at the edges of the fins, and the spots on the sides may join to form horizontal bars (3).
Very little is known about the biology of the honeycomb grouper, but like many other groupers it displays the remarkable ability to change its sex, starting its life as a female and, more often than not, later changing to a male (1)(3). While the exact timing of breeding is unknown, it takes place between January and April at the Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, and between May and August at Okinawa, Japan, when large numbers of mature male and female fish gather into aggregations (1)(4). During this time, spawning peaks over three of fours days around a full moon. The young fish are particularly vulnerable to predation, but those fish that survive will spend their whole life around a small area on a single reef. Young honeycomb groupers mainly feed on crustaceans, while adults mostly eat fish (1)(3).
The honeycomb grouper is found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where it ranges from South Africa eastwards to the Pitcairn Islands (excluding the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf and coastal India), north to southern Japan, and south to New South Wales and Lord Howe Island, Australia (1)(3).
While the honeycomb grouper is a widespread and abundant species not currently threatened with extinction, it is a commercially important species that is subject to fishing with hand-lines, nets and capture in traps. At present, this exploitation is likely to be of low to moderate levels, but due to the honeycomb grouper being an aggregate spawner, it is particularly vulnerable to fishing during the breeding season. However, fortunately for this species, the young age at which it reaches maturity means that most caught individuals have already bred and that the population is resistant to all but the most intensive of fishing pressures (1).
Due to its non-threatened status the honeycomb grouper has not been the target of any known conservation measures; however, it occurs in a number of marine protected areas, including several in the Australian parts of its range (1).
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Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps and barnacles.
Heemstra, P.C. and Randall, J.E. (1993) FAO Species Catalogue. Volume 16. Groupers of the World (Family Serranidae, Subfamily Epinephelinae). An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of the Grouper, Rockcod, Hind, Coral Grouper, and Lyretail Species Known to Date. FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 125, Vol. 16. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome.
Lee, Y.D., Park, S.H., Takemura, A. and Takano, K. (2002) Histological observations of seasonal reproductive and lunar-related spawning cycles in the female honeycomb grouper Epinephelus merra in Okinawan waters. Fisheries Science, 68: 872-877.
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