Red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus
Red drum are found throughout Florida’s nearshore waters. Gold and Richardson (1991) identified weakly
differentiated subpopulations occurring in the northeast Gulf of Mexico, Mosquito Lagoon, and along the
coasts of North and South Carolina. Seyoum et al. (2000) also found genetic evidence for separate
populations on Florida’s gulf and Atlantic coasts but found no evidence of a separate population in Mosquito
Lagoon. Red drum along the Gulf of Mexico side of the Florida peninsula may be somewhat isolated from
red drum in the northern and western gulf.
Newly hatched red drum spend about 20 days in the water column before becoming demersal (Rooker et
al. 1999). Small juvenile red drum seek out and inhabit rivers, bays, canals, tidal creeks, boat basins, and
passes within estuaries (Peters and McMichael 1987). Subadults are found in these habitats and in large
aggregations on seagrass beds and over oyster bars, mud flats, or sand bottoms. Adult red drum are found
mostly in nearshore shelf waters, except where they occur within the Mosquito-Indian River Lagoon complex
on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Growth is very rapid through ages 4–5 (Table 1). Maximum age is about 40 years
in Florida (Murphy and Taylor 1990), but there are reports of red drum as old as 60 years in North Carolina
waters (Ross et al. 1995). Males mature when 1–3 years old, and females mature when 3–6 years old. Red
drum spawn during the late summer and early fall in inlets, within estuaries, or in nearshore shelf waters.
Juvenile red drum feed primarily on copepods, mysid shrimp, and amphipods (Peters and McMichael
1987). Menhaden and anchovies were the most important prey for adult red drum in the winter and spring;
crabs and shrimp were the most important prey in the summer and fall (Boothby and Avault 1971).
The sale of red drum in Florida is prohibited (Florida Administrative Code, chapter 68B-22.005(2))
precluding any commercial harvest. In 2006, recreational red drum landings totaled 2,172,726 pounds.
Landings were greater on the gulf coast, where about 70% of the statewidelandings were made. The 2006
recreational landings of red drum were greater than 100,000 fish in each of the five subregions except for
Monroe County and Southeast Florida (Miami-Dade through St Lucie Counties) (Fig. 1). Since 1989, when
current regulations were enacted, landings slowly increased on the Atlantic through about 2000 and 2001
before dropping to slightly lower levels during 2002-2006. Since 1989, gulf landings have increased slowly
from a 1989-2003 five-year average of 1.1 million pounds to a 2002-2006 average of 1.5 million pounds
(Fig. 2). The 2006 total landings of red drum were equal to the average landings in the previous five years
(2001-2005) and were only 1% higher than the average historical landings (1982–2006).
During the mid-1980s, high total-catch rates occurred when the red drum standing stock increased
subsequent to several moratoria prohibiting red drum harvest. On the Atlantic coast catch rates declined
from 1995 through 2000 before holding steady through 2003 then increasing in 2004 and 2005 (Fig. 3). Gulf
coast total-catch rates showed a slower decline from 1991 through 2002 before rebounding in 2003, 2004,
and 2005 (Fig. 4).
Young-of-the-year (YOY) abundance indices of red drum on the Atlantic coast had increased markedly
during 2001-2005 before dropping to near the 1996-2001 average in 2006. On the gulf coast, young-of-the-
year abundance indices increase from 2001-2004 but drop significantly in 2005, possibly due to red tide,
and remained low in 2006 (Figs. 5, 6). Abundances of post-YOY red drum were highest from 2000 to 2002
on the Atlantic coast and have fluctuated at more moderate levels during the period 2003-2006.
Abundances on the gulf coast has remained fairly high since 2003 (Figs. 7, 8). Few red drum were colleted
exhibiting gross external abnormalities on the Atlantic coast, while the proportion of effected red drum on the
gulf coast varied without trend (Figs. 9, 10). Tumors/cysts were the dominant gross abnormalities
encountered on the Atlantic coast, while red/bloody areas and parasites were the two most common
afflictions in red drum on the gulf coast (Figs. 11, 12).
Escapement rates and direct evidence from the age composition of adults in the gulf off Tampa Bay indicate
that the adult stocks of red drum are rebuilding after the years of overfishing that occurred prior to the mid-
1980s. Studies by FWC-FMRI appear to indicate that the offshore stock of red drum (mostly fish older than
age 5) is increasing in abundance as new recruits move into the population (Murphy and Crabtree 2001).
Coastwide assessments suggest that the Atlantic and gulf red drum stocks are still overfished but that both
are recovering (Goodyear 1996, Vaughan 1996, Vaughan and Carmichael 2000). Porch (2000), however,
suggests that red drum stocks are not recovering. His gulfwide assessment showed that fishing mortality
rates on subadults, particularly age-2 fish, were still high enough in 1998 that the spawning potential ratio of
the stock was not likely to achieve 20% (Porch 2000).
Murphy (2002) indicated that the average instantaneous fishing mortalities on both coasts of Florida peaked
during the mid 1980s, declined during the late 1980s, and increased to relatively stable levels by the mid-
1990s. Because there was no information at that time on the sizes of red drum that died subsequent to
being released alive, a large portion of the harvest, the condition of the red drum stocks in Florida could not
be precisely determined. Murphy (2005) incorporated some information on the sizes of released fish into an
updated assessment of red drum in Florida. Findings from these analyses indicated that year-class
specific escapement rates were 34% on the Atlantic coast and 32% on the gulf coast in 2003.
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Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute