Black drum inhabit Florida estuaries as juveniles and occasionally move into near shelf
waters as adults. The species occurs in nearshore waters from Nova Scotia south to Argentina.
Gold and Richardson (1991) suggested that there was little differentiation into subpopulations in
U.S. waters; although, Gold and Richardson (1998b) emphasized a significant degree of clinal
variation among black drum mtDNA haplotypes along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. Growth is
fairly slow; 11”–14" at age 1, 15”–17" at age 2, and 19”–21" at age 3 (Table 1; Murphy and
Taylor 1989; Murphy and Muller 1995a; Jones and Wells 1998). Black drum, the largest
members of the family Sciaenidae, can reach over 46" and 120 pounds. Long-lived fish, black
drum can reach almost 60 years of age (Murphy et al. 1998; Jones and Wells 1998; Campana
and Jones 1998). Black drum spawn during the winter–early spring. Females mature at age 4–6
years and are prodigious, multiple spawners. An average-sized female (13.4 pounds) may spawn
32-million eggs each year (Fitzhugh et al. 1993).
Total landings of black drum in Florida during 2005 were 574,084 pounds. These
landings were made mostly on the Atlantic coast (70% of statewide total) and mostly by
recreational fishers (99% of statewide landings by weight). Anglers in Duval county reported
the highest county-specific commercial landings in 2005 (Fig. 1). Recreational landings in
Florida were greatest along coastal counties of Indian River through Nassau on the Atlantic coast
(Fig. 2). The 2005 total landings were 38% lower than the average landings in the previous five
years (2000–2004) and were 42% lower than the 1982–2005 historical average landings (Fig.3).
Total landings slowly declined statewide between 1991 and 1997 then showed occasional large
increases along the Atlantic coast (2000 and 2001) but varied without trend on the gulf coast.
Fishing regulations, implemented in 1990, were probably partly responsible for the sharp decline
in 1990 (Fig. 3).
Commercial catch rates increased between 1997 and 2001 on the Atlantic coast but have
since declined (Fig. 4). Gulf coast commercial catch rates dropped between 1995 and 1998 and
have since been steady at about 10 pounds per trip since then (Fig. 5). The recreational total
catch rates fluctuated without long-term trends on both Atlantic and gulf coasts during 1991-
2005 (Figs. 6, 7).
With the exception of a peak observed in 1998 on the gulf coast, indices of abundance for
young-of-the-year back drum on both the Atlantic and gulf coasts generally declined during
1996-2000/2001 and since have held steady at lower levels until 2004; they appeared to be
rebounding in 2005 (Figs. 8, 9). Fishery-independent indices of abundance for post-young-of-the
year black drum on the Atlantic coast exhibited two opposite V-shaped trends during 1997-2005,
with a low in 2000 and a peak in 2003 (Fig. 10). On the gulf coast, abundance of post-young-ofthe
year black drum showed a long-term trend that was inverse to the Atlantic trends, with peaks
in 1999 and 2000, and a low in 2003 (Fig. 11).
Gross external abnormalities in black drum were most prevalent in 2001 and 2002 on the
Atlantic coast (Fig. 12). On the gulf coast, they were generally lower than on the Atlantic coast
and varied without trend (Fig. 13). Skeletal abnormalities were the most common abnormalities
observed in black drum (60%) on the Atlantic coast, whereas ulcer/lesion (40%) and “other
abnormalities” (40%) were most common on the gulf coast during 1999-2005 (Figs. 14, 15).
An assessment of black drum in Florida indicated that under fishing mortalities estimated
for the mid to late 1980s, their static spawning potential ratio was at least 26%–36% (Murphy
and Muller 1995). Murphy and Muller (1995) concluded that the black drum stock in Florida
could sustain the level of fishing occurring during the early 1990s. The Gulf States Marine
Fisheries Commission developed a fishery management plan for black drum that recommended
that states set size limits on the commercial fishery and bag limits on the recreational fishery
(Leard et al. 1993). The plan did not recommend a gulf-wide size limit because of low interest
in the fishery at that time. A 14-inch minimum size limit, a 24-inch maximum size limit, and
500 pound commercial trip limit was enacted to regulate Florida’s black drum fishery in 1989,
with the goal of preventing the development of a high-volume purse-seine fishery.
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Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute