Gray snapper are tropical, marine reef fish that occur from the U.S. mid-Atlantic south to
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Juveniles are common to inshore waters throughout Florida, and adults
are found in areas of moderate to high relief on the continental shelf. Spawning occurs during
summer (June–September) in offshore waters around reefs, wrecks, and other bottom structures
(Stark 1971; Domeier et al. 1996). Maturity occurs at about 7.5" standard length (Koenig 1993),
which is probably the size when some gray snapper reach age-1 or age-2 (Manooch and
Matheson 1981). Gray snapper reach about 3.7”–5.8” total length (TL) at age 1, can grow to
about 30", and can live at least 25 years (Table 1; Manooch and Matheson 1981; Johnson et al.
1994). Burton (2001) noted that growth rates for gray snapper in northeast and southeast Florida
differed: fish from northeast Florida attained a greater maximum size and age than those from
southeast Florida. Catch curves showing estimates of total annual mortality ranged from 0.35 in
northeast Florida to 0.94 in southeast Florida (Burton 2001).
Adult gray snapper are nocturnal predators that forage away from their reef habitats.
Juveniles feed diurnally among seagrass beds (Bortone and Williams 1986) and feed primarily
on penaeid shrimp and crabs (Rutherford et al.1989a). Adult gray snappers feed on fish (largely
grunts), shrimp, and crabs. (Harrigan et al. 1989; Hettler 1989).
Gray snapper landings totaled 2,039,942 pounds in 2005. The recreational fishery made
85% of the statewide landings. Landings were greater on the gulf coast, where about 72% of the
statewide landings were made in 2005. Commercial landings, made throughout the state, were
highest in Monroe and Pinellas Counties on the gulf coast (Fig. 1). Recreational landings
occurred in all regions and were highest in the southern half of the peninsula (Fig. 2). The 2005
total landings were 1% lower than the average landings in the previous five years (2000–2004)
and were 2% lower than the1982–2005 historical average landings (Fig. 3). Total annual
landings of gray snapper have been relatively steady since 1982 on the Atlantic coast; though,
landings have increased somewhat since 1998. On the gulf coast, landings have been relatively
stable with a slight increase since 1998 (Fig. 3).
Commercial and recreational catch rates have remained relatively stable since 1982 on
the Atlantic coast, while commercial catch rates show an increase from 1991-2005 and
recreational catch rates increased slightly in 2005 on the gulf coast (Figs. 4–7).
Relative abundance indices demonstrate that young-of-the-year gray snapper are only
occasionally caught on the Atlantic coast. There is evidence for occasional large year classes;
seen as higher than usual abundance indices in 2005 on the Atlantic coast (Fig. 8) and in 2004 on
the gulf coast (Fig. 9). Post young-of-the-year abundances show an increase since 2001 on the
Atlantic coast (Fig. 10). On the gulf coast post young-of-the-year abundances were noticeably
higher in 2002 and 2003 (Fig. 11). On the Atlantic coast the proportion of gray snapper >75 mm
with gross external abnormalities was highest in 2001 (Fig. 12). On the gulf coast the proportion
with abnormalities has been low since 1999 (Fig. 13). All abnormalities observed were skeletal
deformations on the Atlantic coast (Fig. 14); non-classified (other) abnormalities were most
common on the gulf coast (Fig. 15).
Manooch and Matheson (1981) found that yield-per-recruit would increase in South
Florida in the early 1980s if the age-at-recruitment was increased. At that time gray snapper
recruited to the fishery at about 12” TL. Similarly, Rutherford et al. (1989b) found that gray
snapper were too small, in terms of yiled per recruit, when harvested (< 10” FL) in Everglades
National Park during the early 1980s. Burton (2001) noted that in northeast Florida gray snapper
were fully recruited into the headboat fishery between ages 5 and 6 (13”–22” TL), to the
commercial fishery between ages 7 and 8 (14”–24” TL), and into the private recreational fishery
between ages 4 and 7 (12”–24” TL). In southeast Florida, gray snapper were fully recruited into
all fisheries between ages 4 and 5 (9”–20” TL). Regional estimates of fishing mortality for gray
snapper were 0.16 per year for northeast Florida and 0.66 per year for southeast Florida (Burton
2001). A 10" size limit, which included prohibition of the sale of any gray snapper less than 12"
total length, was implemented in 1990. A bag-limit of 5 gray snapper was also implemented in
1990 as part of the 10-fish-aggregate snapper bag limit.
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Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute