Naples truly has become Southwest Florida’s Riviera. With miles upon miles of meandering waterways and coastline, and a name like Ten Thousand Islands is not an exaggeration, the water is more way of life then mere scenery. The sea has been attracting people to the Sunshine State since mastodons roamed the peninsula, not for the beauty of a waterfront home, but for the bounty it contained. Much remains the same today—except, of course, the desire for shorefront dwellings and the roaming mastodon thing. The sea calls, though with some state and federally mandated restrictions to ensure population sustainability for the future, making fishing a seasonal sport in these parts.
The 2015 recreational season for Gulf gag grouper is well under way, running July 1 through December 3. It is now open for anglers with a hankering for a fried grouper sandwich and a DIY attitude. With a bag limit of up to two gags per day at a minimum of 22 inches, there are plenty of fillets to go around. One of the most abundant grouper species in the Southeast, specifically in the Atlantic, the Gulf population took a major hit in recent years, most notably from the 2005 red tide bloom that blanketed the region. This prompted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to restrict the fishing season with annual catch limits to manage the harvest and help boost the numbers of the fish. Populations are rebounding; however, NOAA reports that the Gulf of Mexico is overfished – below sustainable population levels – requiring catch limits and limited recreation seasons.
As for harvesting gag grouper, in Gulf waters anglers must use circle hooks, which are more likely to hook in the fish’s mouth versus the esophagus or stomach, as well as the use de-hooking devices, which help reduce handling time while removing the hook, all while preventing it from reengaging in the fish. Similar in appearance to black and scamp grouper, the gag is dappled with a pattern reminiscent of jaguar spots, and dark fins with a slightly concave tail.
Similar in profile to black grouper, gag is a white fish that cooks up firm, with big flakes that hold moisture well—unless overcooked. The flavor is mild, not fishy, with a light sweetness. When it comes to grouper, if not specifically noted as red, black, snowy, what have you, gag is most likely on the plate or in the bun. Glazed, steamed, baked, blackened, broiled, fried or sautéed, pretty much any way it is prepared, grouper is tasty and has become a staple of dockside seafood-centric eateries.
Related Content: Cook Your Catch – Fresh from Florida Grouper Recipes >>
A few tips for the home chef:
- The “Rule of Ten”: When baking or broiling, stick to the 10 minutes per inch of thickness with an oven temp between 400 and 450 degrees.
- For larger fillets, butterfly them if planning to grill. This will help prevent the charred tail/raw center scenario.
- To help keep things uniform, fold the tail end over onto the fillet to give the piece even thickness.