Fish Facts: Mystery from the Mediterranean

A colorful species of dwarf sea bass adds to this angler’s day.
Mediterranean grouper
This mysterious little grouper is part of the Serranidae family, more specifically the genus Serranus. Dave Lewis

While fishing a small jig in the Mediterranean, UK angler and journalist (a regular contributor to Marlin magazine) Dave Lewis brought up a beautiful prize. He took a photo of this particularly colorful little fish before he tossed it back.

“I’ve actually caught quite a few of these over rough terrain in 50 to 300 feet of water in several regions of the Med,” he says, “including off Morocco, Malta and Gibraltar.” Lewis suspects it’s some sort of grouper, but wants to know for certain.

Well, Dave, you’re right on. You caught a comber, Serranus cabrilla. While it is a grouper by virtue of its inclusion in that family — Serranidae — more specifically, the genus Serranus are Atlantic dwarf sea basses. This lovely sea bass ranges up and down the eastern Atlantic, from the U.K. to South Africa, including the Mediterranean, Black and Red seas. Other closely related sea basses are found off the North American Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Combers aren’t likely to be caught more than a few pounds at best, but that’s big enough to be the world record: To date, no angler has submitted the species to the IGFA for the all-tackle record. (The British record stands at 1 pound, 13 ounces, caught off Cornwall in 1977.) Apparently the comber ranges from fairly shallow coastal waters to several hundred feet. As expected, it’s a tasty little thing and has some local importance commercially.

Guessing a fish might be a grouper isn’t a bad idea, since the odds are favorable: There are about 450 species of the grouper family, Serranidae. There are few places in the world’s warm marine waters where grouper aren’t found, so the comber is in good company.

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