The Speckled Hind is a member of the “Deep-Water Grouper” family more commonly called the “Kitty Mitchell,” by older Florida anglers. One of the deepest dwelling of the grouper family, it also is one of the tastiest and most distinctive. Colored a dark gray or reddish brown, it has hundreds of small cream-colored spots on its sides, fins and gill covers. It lives on underwater seamounts or cones that rise 50 feet or more from the ocean floor. The world record is 52 pounds, 8 ounces, and the Florida record is 42 pounds, 6 ounces.
A little history…
Once there was a woman named Kitty Mitchell who ran a boarding house adjacent to the Port Royal Lounge in Louisiana. In the 1960’s, many fishermen passed through that boarding house and enjoyed the hospitality of Ms. Mitchell. She was an engaging red head, who always made a point of wearing beautiful flowing flowery dresses and a welcoming smile.
It's a lonely life as a fishermen and long days and nights out on the Gulf of Mexico left the men thinking of Kitty. Snapper was the abundant fish in the area. One day, they hauled in a large catch of grouper with the most interesting coloring. The men were gathered on the deck to admire them, when one exclaimed, "Why the skin of that fish looks just like a dress Ms. Mitchell was wearing when I saw her in town last week!" And so the fish was then named the “Kitty Mitchell” grouper in honor of Ms. Kitty's dresses that looked strangely similar to the pattern on the skin of the fish.
The commercial fishermen’s nickname for the speckled hind is “Kitty Mitchell.”
The story is that the proprietress of a bawdy house in a Florida fishing community was particularly fond of the fish as table fare and would trade commercial fishermen fresh from the sea her companionship for the fish.
So the fish was named for her.
It’s a good thing that it’s easy to identify (remember the part about risk) because the limit on the fish is one per boat. Not one per person — one per boat - Getting caught with more onboard will result in a hefty penalty.)
The species is considered severely overfished. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List shows it as “critically endangered,” and, one step away from extinct.
The Speckled Hind grows substantially larger than either Red or Rock Hinds. The Louisiana state record is a 32-pounder caught by Blake Matherne in 2010. The IGFA world record is a 52-pound, 8-ounce brute caught off the coast of Florida.
It is considered a deep-water grouper, along with Snowy, Yellow-edge and Warsaw groupers. The Speckled Hind is most common in waters 200 to 600 feet deep, although it occasionally ranges into waters as shallow as 80 feet.
Its range is primarily the Gulf of Mexico, although they are found up the South Atlantic coast as far as North Carolina, and an outlier (and probably non-spawning) population is in Bermuda waters.
It is absent from the Caribbean.
Like most other groupers, it shows a preference for rocky bottoms. Unlike with Snowy and Yellow-edge groupers, many Louisiana catches of Speckled Hinds are found near oil and gas platforms. They eat a typical grouper diet: fish, shrimp, and crab — in short - any living thing they is easily sucked into their big mouths.
Like most if not all other groupers, the Speckled Hind is a protogynous hermaphrodite, which interestingly enough means each fish starts life as a female and at some later stage in its life, changes gender into male!
A comprehensive study of the fish done on the Atlantic coast published in 2008 as a master’s thesis showed a sex ratio of one male for every three females. Females dominated the population in numbers until age 9 and 26 inches in length. After that, males increased in number.
Of the 1,365 fish in the study, the smallest mature female was 15.6 inches long. The smallest mature male was 20 inches.
Fish in transitional stages, with reproductive organs changing from female to male, were found between 18 and 29 inches long, and 3 to 7 years old.
This gender-bending and the long life-span (at least 35 and perhaps as long as 80 years) makes this species difficult to manage for recovery from overfished status.
Larger groupers beat out smaller groupers for baited hooks, so are more quickly caught. As a result, scientists suspect there are not enough male groupers to effectively fertilize all the eggs that a female may produce.
Compounding that, as male groupers are over-fished, It is noted that larger females begin changing to males at an earlier age. Larger females, of course, each produce more eggs than smaller females.
Traditional regulations such as minimum sizes and closed seasons, won’t work in an effort to restore this species. It is observed that since they live in deeper water, when they are reeled to the surface, they suffer from “catastrophic decompression syndrome” (CDS).
Their swim bladders over-expand, damaging their internal organs. Their eyes bulge out of their sockets and actually crack. This causes the species to experience blood vessel hemorrhages, their stomaches being pushed out of their mouths and occasionally they lose the ability to keep themselves in a natural swimming position.
Even if they don’t die directly from “CDS,” this species of fish are generally affected by it & are trapped at the water’s surface and helpless against a variety predators.
Generally, this means that size limits won’t help the species recover because released undersized fish will likely not survive. The same is the case with closed seasons and quotas: Fishermen will continue to incidentally catch Speckled Hinds while fishing for other species.
A complete closure of the deep-water bottom fishery for all species — something that is not likely to happen, politically — is the only effective solution to help the species recover.
Short of that, only marine protected areas may offer some sort of relief. MPA’s, essentially national parks on the water, would allow Speckled Hind (and other fish) to build populations that resemble unfished populations.
Some biologists have estimated that the amount of spawning-age Speckled Hinds (measured in pounds) is only 2 percent of what was in 1973.
By most accounts, the population is overfished and still experiencing overfishing.
The fly in the ointment is that most scientists are quick to note that the fish has not been adequately studied. And fishermen are still catching them in numbers that haven’t changed in anyone’s memory.
Speckled hind inhabit warm, moderately deep waters from North Carolina to Cuba, including Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico. Preferred habitats include high- and low-profile hard bottoms in depths of 25 to 183 meters, with temperatures of 60° to 85°F. They are most common between 60 and 120 meters. Off the Carolinas, the speckled hind is usually found inshore of deep-water reef fish (Tilefish, Snowy, Warsaw and Yellow-edge groupers). Like other reef fish studied in the South Atlantic Bight, Speckled Hind seem to display a fish size-water depth relationship, smaller fish occur inshore, where larger fish are found in deeper waters. The world record is a 64-pound Speckled Hind, caught off North Carolina. They are protogynous hermaphrodites, with females reaching sexual maturity at 4 or 5 years of age (about 19-21 inches long). Spawning takes place offshore in July through September. Speckled Hind generally engulf their prey whole. Their life span is approximately 25 years.