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Diversity and Current Status of Grouper Fish, Epinephelus Bloch, 1793 in Indian Coastal Waters


Darwin Chatla, Padmavathi Pamulapati*

Department of Zoology and Aquaculture, Acharya Nagarjuna University, Nagarjuna Nagar -522510, Andhra Pradesh, India.


Abstract | The grouper fish, Epinephelus Bloch, 1793 represents an iconic genus of the family Serranidae and order Perciformes. They are highly-prized food fishes intended for subsistence, artisanal, recreational and commercial fisheries throughout their geographic range. Despite their economic importance, the status of grouper fishes has been increasingly imperiled through overfishing activities. The conservation efforts have also been constrained with this highly skewed Epinephelus. Hence, in order to save this esteemed resource, effective conservation and rehabilitation strategies need to be planned and implemented in the country. However, it requires the knowledge of the current status of grouper fish diversity which is not yet carried comprehensively. Hence this study was proposed to review the systematic study of the genus Epinephelus to fill the gaps in diversity studies of India. The study also documented the present IUCN status of the listed species of Epinephelus under different categories of conservation status.


Keywords | Conservation, Distribution, Diversity, Epinephelus, Groupers


Received | June 13, 2020; Accepted | August 15, 2020; Published | September 01, 2020

*Correspondence | Padmavathi Pamulapati, Department of Zoology and Aquaculture, Acharya Nagarjuna University, Nagarjuna Nagar -522510, Andhra Pradesh, India; Email:

Citation | Darwin C, Padmavathi P (2020). Diversity and current status of grouper fish, Epinephelus Bloch, 1793 in Indian coastal waters. Adv. Anim. Vet. Sci. 8(11): 1161-1169.


ISSN (Online) | 2307-8316; ISSN (Print) | 2309-3331

Copyright © 2020 Chatla and Pamulapati. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.




India is one of the twelve megadiverse nations in the world and well known for its biodiversity richness (Serajuddin et al., 2018) with a distinctive biogeographic marine ecoregion (Spalding et al., 2007). The Indian coastline (7517 km) with different coastal ecosystems supports rich diverse resources having considerable economic importance. The marine diverse resources represent half of all extant vertebrates with an estimation of 2443 (75.6%) valid species (Gopi and Mishra, 2015). In recent decades, there has been a massive development of the fisheries sector in the Indian waters. The vessels now extend their trawling operations into deeper waters, catching more varieties of demersal fishes including groupers. Grouper landings have been continuously increasing during the last decade (2009-2018) with an average of 37970 tonnes and are shown in Figure 1. The highest landings of 53924 tonnes in 2017 and the lowest of 17606 tonnes were observed in 2009. In 2018 the landings have been accounted for about 51433 tonnes (CMFRI, 2019). However, species-specific landing data were not reported for the grouper species. Because of this low degree of resolution, 61% of grouper landings are reported as “groupers nei” in FAO (2016) database. Concurrent with the increase in landings and production of groupers, there may be a chance of overexploitation and some species on the threat of extinction.


Grouper fishes are cosmopolitan, occurring in tropical and subtropical areas (Heemstra and Randall, 1993). This highly diverse fish group plays a significant role in the coral reef ecosystem as regulators of the structure and composition of communities and forms an important link in the food chain (Rao, 2009). The groupers are top predators, sedentary and usually sluggish in movement, slow growing and long-lived (Heemstra and Randall, 1993). They have white, tender and tasty meat, and commands a high price in the market. Moreover, many species have been prioritized as potential species for aquaculture (Noikotr et al., 2013; Pierre et al., 2008). Small grouper species are highly valued in the aquarium trade and remain as one of the valuable fishery resources along the coasts of India. These features attracted many enthusiastic researchers (Ottolenghi et al., 2004; Sadovy et al., 2013).



Over the past decade, a number of articles published on various aspects of Epinephelus species (Figure 2). In India, only 318 articles are published to an estimated 3386 articles worldwide. Thus, inspite of their commercial importance, the work done so far on Epinephelus species in India is scarce.



A perusal of the literature shows that these fishes are being subjected to intense fishing pressure for food, ornamental display and medicinal purposes globally (Sujatha et al., 2015; Vincent, 2006). The loss of groupers can have a serious effect on local ecosystems since these fishes play an important role in the structure of rocky bottom and coral reef communities (Sujatha et al., 2015). In spite of their commercial importance, the status of grouper fishes has been threatened by overexploitation. As a result, certain species of groupers have become a matter of serious concern. Hence, comprehensive information on the current status of grouper diversity is a prerequisite for efficient management and to formulate the steps to be taken to protect these fishes towards sustainable exploitation. Hence the present study was aimed to manifest the diversity and current status of Epinephelus in Indian coastal waters by reviewing the studies carried so far on the diversity and distribution of this fish. The Conservation status of Epinephelus species under different categories was also documented.


Diversity and Distribution of groupers, Epinephelus

Grouper fishes of the Family Serranidae (Order: Perciformes; Class: Actinopterygii) are represented by 16 genera and 163 species with world-wide distribution. According to FishBase, around 54 species of the sub-family, Epinephelinae and 38 species of the genus, Epinephelus have been reported from the Indian waters (Froese and Pauly, 2019). Groupers inhabit a wide variety of habitats, mainly coral reefs, rocky areas, seagrass beds, and estuaries (Darwin et al., 2018; Rao, 2009). They exhibit a wide variety of reproductive and growth strategies (Morris et al., 2000). Epinephelus species are regularly landed by subsistence, artisanal, and commercial fisheries throughout their geographic range. A significant number of studies have been carried on the diversity of groupers, Epinephelus in various ecosystems of the Indian coastal waters and are presented in Table 1.



Data on the distribution of Indian groupers were collected from twelve coastal states and union territories of India (Figure 3) which revealed the presence of 47 species of Epinephelus in Indian waters (Table 2). The species richness against the length of the coast of all states and union territories is presented in Figure 3. The east coast represents 76.59% with 36 species, while the west coast


Table 1: Diversity studies on Epinephelus species in Indian coastal waters.


S. No. State Location Reference
1 Gujarat Location not mentioned

James et al., 1994

Major coastal states of Gujarat

Barman et al., 2000

Gulf of Kachchh

Subba Rao and Sastry, 2005


Joshi et al., 2018; Sen et al., 2019

2 Maharashtra Location not mentioned

James et al., 1994

Major fish landing centres of Maharashtra

Barman et al., 2012

Sassoon Dock

Albert et al., 2017

Mumbai Coast

Bhendekar et al., 2019

3 Goa Grand Island

Sluka and Lazarus, 2010; Sluka, 2013

4 Karnataka Natrani Island

Sluka and Lazarus, 2010; Sluka, 2013

Major fish landing centres of Karnataka

Barman et al., 2013

Mangalore, Karnataka

Mahesh et al., 2014



Location not mentioned

James et al., 1994

Ponnani estuary, Kerala

Bijukumar and Sushama, 2000

Neendakara, Sakthikulangara, Munambam, Ponnani, Puthiyappa, and Azheekkal of Kerala

Biju and Deepthi, 2009


Sluka and Lazarus, 2010


Gibinkumar et al., 2012; Anjali et al., 2019


Sluka, 2013

Location not mentioned

Bijukumar and Raghavan, 2015

Mulloor, Vizhinjam, Kovalam, Thirumullavram of South Kerala

Baiju et al., 2016

6 Tamil Nadu Parangipettai

Ramaiyan et al., 1987

Location not mentioned

Ramesh et al., 2008

Chennai metropolitan city limits (extending from Ennore in the north to Thiruvanmiyur in the south) Chennai

Krishnan et al., 2007

Melakkal and Muttom

Sluka and Lazarus, 2010

All coastal districts (10) Tamilnadu

Barman et al., 2011

Mandapam and Keelakkarai

Roy and Gopalakrishnan, 2011

Cuddalore and Parangipettai

Sambandamoorthy et al., 2015


Ramu et al., 2015

Wadge bank, Kanyakumari

Karuppasamy, 2016


Govindan and Ravichandran, 2016

Estuarine wetlands of Tamil Nadu

Mogalekar et al., 2017

Cuddalore, Parangipettai, and Nallavadu

Jayaprabha et al., 2018

Tuticorin, Southeast coast of India

Manojkumar et al., 2019

Gulf of mannar

Varghese et al., 2011; Kumar et al., 2013; Joshi, 2016

Thoothukudi Coast, Gulf of mannar

Jawahar et al., 2013

Pamban, Gulf of mannar

Varghese and Joshi, 2017

Keelakari, Gulf of mannar

Varghese et al., 2017


Varghese and Gandhi 2019


Anjali et al., 2019

7 Pondicherry Pondicherry and Karaikal

Mishra and Krishnan, 2003

8 Andhra Pradesh Major landing stations of Andhra Pradesh

Barman et al., 2004


Sujatha, 2004; Sreedhar et al., 2010; Deepti et al., 2014; Sujatha et al., 2015

9 Orissa Odisha

Barman et al., 2007


Mohanty et al., 2015

S. No. State Location Reference
10 West Bengal Digha

Yennawar et al., 2011; Yennawar et al., 2015, 2017

Digha, Digha Mohana, Shankarpur, Petuaghat, Sagar, Fresergunge, Namkhana, Kakdwip and Diamond Harbour of West Bengal coast

Kar et al., 2017

Digha Mohona

Ray and Mohapatra, 2020





Chandrasekhara, 1991; Murty, 2001; Kumar et al., 2012

Minicoy Island

Robert and Lazarus, 2006

12 Andaman and Nicobar Islands Andaman and Nicobar

Pokapunt et al., 1993; Rajan, 2001, 2015; Rajan et al., 2013; Rao, 2009; Kirubasankar et al., 2013; Ramakrishna et al., 2010



represents 57.44% with 27 species. The Andaman and Nicobar islands represent 70.21% of grouper diversity with a maximum number of 33 species, followed by Tamil Nadu (68.08%) with 32 species, Kerala (53.19%) with 25 species, Andhra Pradesh (42.55%) with 20 species, Karnataka (38.29%) with 18 species, Maharashtra 38.29% with 18 species, Lakshadweep (34.04%) with 16 species, West Bengal (29.78%) 14 species, Gujarat (29.78%) with 14 species, Orissa (17.02%) with 8 species, Goa (8.51%) with 4 species and Puducherry (6.38%) with 3 species.


Regarding species distribution (Table 2), E. coioides was recorded as a dominant species in all coastal states except Puducherry. Similarly, E. malabaricus was identified as the second most widely distributed species in the coastal waters of 10 out of 12 states and union territories in India. Considering the distribution of species from the west coast, E. coioides, E. diacanthus, and E. erythrurus were abundant in all reported stations, while E. areolatus, E. chlorostigma, E. fasciatus, E. fuscoguttatus, E. latifasciatus, and E. malabaricus are dominant in all stations, except Goa. Along the east coast, E. lanceolatus and E. malabaricus were reported in all stations, while E. bleekeri, E. coioides, E. latifasciatus and E. tauvina were found in all stations except Puducherry. The distribution of some rare species was confined to particular regions of the east coast such as E. corallicola (Tamil Nadu), E. fasciatomaculosus (Tamil Nadu), E. hata (Andhra Pradesh), E. magniscuttis (Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal), E. marginatus (Andhra Pradesh), E. melanostigma (Tamil Nadu), E. miliaris (Tamil Nadu), E. poecilonotus (Tamil Nadu), E. retouti (Tamil Nadu), E. rivulatus (Tamil Nadu) and E. sexfasciatus (Tamil Nadu and West Bengal), whereas E. bontoides (Kerala), E. chabaudi (Karnataka and Kerala), E. stoliczkae (Maharastra and Karnataka) and E. Tukula (Goa and Maharastra) were restricted to the west coast of India. In addition to these mainland coastal water species, some species such as E. amblycephalus, E. macrospilos and E. polystigma are reported only from Andaman and Nicobar Islands, while E. ongus and E. spilotoceps were recorded from both Lakshadweep, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India.


It is evident that among the 47 Epinephelus species registered in India, 40 are commercial, while the remaining species are used for aquaria, game/sport fishery, subsistence fisheries and aquaculture (Table 2). In India, rearing of groupers in brackish water aquaculture is a relatively new development as a diversification option in pond and cage culture farms and is still in R and D phase. Certain behavioral characteristics with a high degree of territoriality and site specificity are making the groupers at risk and easy targets for fishermen (Heemstra and Randall, 1993; Morris et al., 2000; Sadovy et al., 2013). In this context, groupers are emerged as a particularly vulnerable group of fishes (Ranjan, 2015). The apparent vulnerability of the giant grouper, E. lanceolatus of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is protected under schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.


Regarding the conservation status as per the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, out of 47 Epinephelus species reported from Indian coastal waters, 41 species (87.23%) are marked as Least Concern (LC) and 3 species (6.38%) each as Vulnerable (VU) and Data deficient (DD) (Table 2 and Figure 4).



Table 2: A comprehensive list and distribution status of extant Grouper (Epinephelus spp.) in Indian coastal waters.


S. No. Species name Common name F States/ Union Territories IUCN status Threat to humans Use/Trade
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Epinephelus amblycephalus (Bleeker, 1857)

Banded grouper                         + LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. areolatus (Forsskål, 1775)

Areolate grouper + + +   + + +   +   +   + LC Harmless Commercial, aquaculture

E. bleekeri (Vaillant, 1878)

Duskytail grouper +   +   + + +   + + + + + DD Harmless Minor commercial, aquaculture

E. bontoides (Bleeker, 1855)

Palemargin grouper           +               LC Harmless Of no interest

E. chabaudi (Castelnau, 1861)

Moustache grouper +       + +               LC Harmless commercial

E. chlorostigma (Valenciennes, 1828)

Brownspotted grouper + + +   + + +   +       + LC Harmless commercial

E. coeruleopunctatus (Bloch, 1790)

Whitespotted grouper +       + +   +   + + + LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. coioides (Hamilton, 1822)

Orange-spotted grouper + + + + + + +   + + + + + LC Harmless Commercial, aquaculture

E. corallicola (Valenciennes, 1828)

Coral grouper +           +         + + LC Harmless Subsistence fisheries

E. diacanthus (Valenciennes, 1828)

Spinycheek grouper + + + + + + +   + +       LC Harmless commercial

E. epistictus (Temminck and Schlegel, 1842)

Dotted grouper +   +   + +     +       + LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. erythrurus (Valenciennes, 1828)

Cloudy grouper + + + + + +     +   +   + LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. fasciatomaculosus (Peters, 1865)

Rock grouper             +             LC Harmless commercial

E. fasciatus (Forsskål, 1775)

Blacktip grouper + +   + + +       + + + LC Ciguatera poisoning Commercial, gamefish,

E. faveatus (Valenciennes, 1828)

Barred-chest grouper +       + + +           + LC Harmless commercial

E. flavocaeruleus (Lacepède, 1802)

Blue-and-yellow grouper +         + +         + + LC Harmless Commercial, aquarium

E. fuscoguttatus (Forsskål, 1775)

Brown-marbled grouper + + +   + + +         + + VU Ciguatera poisoning Minor commercial, gamefish,

E. hata (=E.heniochus) Fowler, 1904

Bridled grouper                 +       + LC Harmless commercial

E. hexagonatus (Forster, 1801)

Starspotted grouper +          + +   +     + + LC Harmless Minor commercial, gamefish

E. lanceolatus (Bloch, 1790)

Gaint grouper + + +   +   + + + + +   + DD Traumatogenic Commercial, aquaculture

E. latifasciatus (Temminck and Schlegel, 1842)

Striped grouper + + +   + + +   + + +     LC Harmless commercial

E. longispinis (Kner, 1864)

Longspine grouper + +     + + +   +   + + + LC Harmless commercial

E. macrospilos (Bleeker, 1855)

Snubnose grouper +                       + LC Harmless Commercial

E. maculatus (Bloch, 1790)

Highfin grouper +         + +             LC Ciguatera poisoning Minor commercial, aquarium

E. magniscuttis Postel, Fourmanoir and Guézé, 1963

Speckled grouper                 +   +     LC Harmless Commercial

E. malabaricus (Bloch and Schneider, 1801)

Malabar grouper + + +   + + + + + + +   + LC Harmless Highly commercial, aquaculture

E. marginatus (Lowe, 1834)

Dusky grouper +               +         VU Harmless Highly Commercial, gamefish
S. No. Species name Common name F States/ Union Territories IUCN status Threat to humans Use/Trade
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

E. melanostigma Schultz, 1953

One-blotch grouper +           +         + + LC Ciguatera poisoning Subsistence fisheries

E. merra Bloch, 1793

Honeycomb grouper + +       + +         + + LC Ciguatera poisoning Commercial, aquaculture,

E. miliaris (Valenciennes, 1830)

Netfin grouper             +           + LC Harmless Minor Commercial

E. morrhua (Valenciennes, 1833)

Comet grouper +   +      + +   + +   +   LC Ciguatera poisoning Minor commercial, gamefish

E. multinotatus (Peters, 1876)

White-blotched grouper +                         LC Harmless Commercial

E. ongus (summana) (Bloch, 1790)

White-streaked grouper +                     + + LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. poecilonotus (Temminck and Schlegel, 1842)

Dot-dash grouper +           +             LC Harmless Subsistence fisheries

E. polylepis Randall and Heemstra, 1991

Smallscaled grouper + + +   +                 LC Harmless Commercial

E. polyphekadion (Bleeker, 1849)

Camouflage grouper +           +         + + VU Ciguatera poisoning Commercial, aquaculture

E. polystigma (Bleeker, 1853)

White-dotted grouper                         + LC Harmless Subsistence fisheries

E. quoyanus (Valenciennes, 1830)

Longfin gouper +           +           + LC Ciguatera poisoning Commercial

E. radiatus (Day, 1868)

Oblique-banded grouper +         + +   +   +   + LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. retouti Bleeker, 1868

Red-tipped grouper             +             LC Harmless Subsistence fisheries, gamefish

E. rivulatus (Valenciennes, 1830)

Halfmoon grouper +           +             LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. sexfasciatus (Valenciennes, 1828)

Sixbar grouper             +       +   + LC Harmless Commercial

E. spilotoceps Schultz, 1953

Foursaddle grouper +                     + + LC Harmless Commercial, gamefish

E. stoliczkae (Day, 1875)

Epaulet grouper +   +   +                 LC Harmless Minor commercial

E. tauvina (Forsskål, 1775)

Greasy grouper + +       + +   + + + + + DD Ciguatera poisoning Minor commercial, aquaculture

E. tukula (Morgans, 1959)

Potato grouper +   + +   +             + LC Harmless Subsistence fisheries, gamefish

E. undulosus (Quoy and Gaimard, 1824)

Wavy-lined grouper +   +   + + + + +       + LC Harmless Minor commercial


*F: FishBase; 1: Gujarat; 2: Maharastra; 3: Goa; 4: Karnataka; 5: Kerala; 6: Tamil Nadu; 7: Puducherry; 8: Andhra Pradesh; 9: Orissa; 10: West Bengal; 11: Lakshadweep and 12: Andaman and Nicobar.


Conclusion and Recommendations


The present study provides a complete checklist of Epinephelus species reported from Indian coastal waters. So far 47 species of Epinephelus have been reported. However, Fish Base ( has shown only 38 species, including E. multinotatus which was not reported in Indian waters. Hence, the database of FishBase needs to be revised and updated to 47 species. Despite their importance for commercial fisheries, aquarium trade, aquaculture and coral reefs, these species are highly threatened by overexploitation, bycatch, and habitat loss due to degradation of coral reefs and the possible effects of climate change. These factors are also impacting the species biodiversity. To conserve these species, it is necessary to implement ecosystem-based management practices. Therefore, the following steps could be taken to improve the conservation of Epinephelus species along the coastal waters of India and elsewhere: (i) collection of landing station-wise data from commercial, bycatch, ornamental and recreational catches; (ii) genetic diversity studies to overcome taxonomic ambiguities (iii) identification of the nutrient profile and consideration of the minimum catch size to avoid depletion of the stock in future; (iv) integrated knowledge about the social, biophysical and ecological aspects of Epinephelus in a sustainable way; (v) increase efforts on education and conservation awareness in coastal tourism and communities; and, most importantly, (vi) creation of networks for marine reserves in priority conservation areas, protecting key species and habitats for their survival. This will not only pave the way for better protection of Epinephelus diversity but will also help maintain harmony in the marine community.




Both the authors contributed equally.




The authors have declared no conflict of interest.




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