An important commercial species in the western Atlantic, the red hind is a reef-dwelling, robust-bodied, predatory fish (3). Highly variable in colour, the body of the red hind ranges from cream to greenish-white or pale reddish-brown. The upperparts are typically a light brown, fading to white on the underparts, with five diagonal bars on the sides of the body and a scattering of dull, orange-brown spots on the head, body and fins (2)(3). The dorsal fin is olive, with a yellow tip on each of the eleven spines, and the tail fin has a broad blackish band with a pale edge. The pectoral fins are pale orange-red, with darker red spots at the base. The body of the red hind is around a third deep as it is long, and large, conspicuous eyes sit behind a gaping jaw armed with two or three rows of strong, slender teeth (3)(4).
Like many other groupers, the red hind 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)(5). Breeding is restricted to just a two week period in January or February, when large numbers of mature male and female fish gather into aggregations (5). The females rest on or near the sea floor and the males defend a territory around five females (1). The females then initiate mating by swimming towards to the males, and both sexes simultaneously release eggs or sperm, with a single female releasing over three million eggs (3). Around 27 days after the eggs are fertilised, the young fish hatch (3)(5). During this time, they are particularly vulnerable to predation, but those fish that survive may live up to 17 years of age (2)(3). The red hind is a dominant predator in its habitat and mainly eats crabs, fish and octopuses (1).
The red hind occurs in the western Atlantic Ocean, from the North Carolina coastline in the United States, south to Venezuela. It is one of the most common Epinephelus species in the West Indies, and it is also found in the Gulf of Mexico and along much of the Central American coastline (1)(3).
Widespread and abundant, the red hind is one of the most common groupers in the West Indies and is not currently threatened with extinction (1). However, it is also one of the most important commercial fish species in the region and is subject to intensive fishing efforts (3). As an aggregate spawner, the red hind is particularly vulnerable to such exploitation and fishing during the breeding season has lead to substantial declines in the species’ population (6). The average size of individual red hinds has also decreased in some areas due to fisheries favouring the larger males, while the sex ratio has become highly skewed towards females (1)(7). The red hind is also threatened by the destruction of marine habitats, including coral reefs, and coastal developments which cause increased pollution and sedimentation (1).
The red hind is protected in a number of coral reef reserves, while protective legislation in Bermuda, Puerto Rica and the U.S. Caribbean regulates the fishing of this species (1). Spawning aggregations have also been protected at Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands since a seasonal closure of fisheries was enforced in 1990 and a full closure in 1997. This has resulted in an increase in catch sizes in local fisheries, as well as an increase in the average size of individual fish and a higher proportion of male fish in the population (6)(7).
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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.
Campbell, A. and Dawes, J. (2004) Encyclopedia of Underwater Life. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Shapiro, D.Y., Sadovy, Y. and McGhee, M.A. (1993) Periodicity of sex change and reproduction in the red hind Epinephelus guttatus, a protogynous grouper. Bulletin of Marine Science, 53: 1151-1162.
Nemeth, R.S. (2005) Population characteristics of a recovering US Virgin Islands red hind spawning aggregation following protection. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 286: 81-97.
Sadovy, Y., Rosario, A. and Román, A. (1994) Reproduction in an aggregating group, the red hind, Epinephelus guttatus. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 41: 269-286.
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