Red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus
Red snapper are distributed throughout the Gulf of Mexico and up the U.S. Atlantic coast
to North Carolina and, although rarely, to Massachusetts. Gold et al. (1997), Camper et al.
(1993), and Heist and Gold (2000) provided genetic evidence that supported the hypothesized existence of a
single red snapper stock in the northern Gulf of Mexico. However, the development of spatially separated
populations of red snapper in the gulf may have begun in the Pleistocene and may not have had sufficient
time to be presently detectable by genetic analyses.
Spawning, which occurs from April through January, peaks in June and July over most of its
range (Bradley and Bryan 1975). Red snapper appear to move away from reef structure when spawning.
Wilson et al. (1994, cited by Goodyear 1995b) found that red snapper first matured between 10.2 inches and
13.8 inches total length (TL); of the fish in their sample, 50% matured by 11.8 inches. Goodyear (1995b)
analyzed data from several sources and found little evidence for strong sexual dimorphism. Early growth of
red snapper appears to be similar for both otolithdetermined ages and scale-determined ages. Sizes at age
were about 5.7–6.9 inches TL at age 1, 10.5–11.7 inches at age 2, reaching about 27.0 inches by age 7
(Nelson and Manooch 1982).
More recent analysis of otolith-section-based ages gave smaller sizes at age after age 2 and an older
maximum age of 25 years in the U.S. South Atlantic waters (Table 1; Manooch and Potts 1997c). Mean back-
calculated total lengths for combined sexes were 6.8” TL, 10.2” TL , 13.6” TL, 16.4” TL, 19.3” TL, 21.9” TL, and
23.7” TL for ages 1–7. Maximum ages for Gulf of Mexico red snapper differed substantially between the two
aging techniques: scale-determined maximum ages were about 16 years; whereas, the maximum otolith-
determined age was 54 years (Wilson and Nieland 1997).
The types of prey that contributed the greatest percentage by volume to the diet of
juvenile red snappers were squid, octopuses, and shrimp (Bradley and Bryan 1975). Camber(1955) stated
that the gulf red snapper prey primarily on shrimp, small reef fish, crabs, andgastropods. The following fish
species were among those most often found in the red snapperdiet: gulf pipefish, shoal flounder, puffer
family, striped mullet, sea robin family, rough scad,butterfish family, sand perch, and clupeids. Juvenile red
snapper habitat is characterized by 18-m–64-m deep water, 24 °C–26 °C water temperatures, 35 ppt
salinities, and at least 5 mg/L of dissolved oxygen (Gallaway et al. 1999). Experiments on captive 2–4 inch
standard-lengthjuvenile red snapper found a preference for shell substrate over sand substrate (Szedlmayer
andHowe 1997).Total annual landings of red snapper in Florida during 2005 were 2,630,444 pounds.
Therecreational landings accounted for 75% of the total landings. Eighty-nine percent of the totallandings
were made on the gulf coast. On the Atlantic coast, the highest reported commerciallandings were made in
Duval, Volusia, and Brevard Counties (Fig. 1). Counties with the highest
reported commercial landings on the Florida gulf coast were Escambia, Okaloosa, Bay, Franklin, and
Pinellas (Fig. 1). Recreational landings of red snapper were greatest in the Panhandle region (Fig. 2). The
2005 total landings of red snapper were 7 % lower than the average landings in the previous five years (2000-
2004) and were 11% higher than the 1982–2005 historical average landings (Fig. 3). On the Atlantic coast,
total annual landings of red snapper were less than 170,000 pounds between 1995 and 1999; total landings
increased to about 510,000 pounds in 2000 then dropped to about 300,000 pounds in 2003 and have
remained relatively stable through 2005. In partial reflection of more restrictive regulations on both the
commercial and recreational fisheries, gulf coast landings began to decline in the early 1980s (Fig. 3). The
increase observed since 1996 may be an expansion of the range of red snapper into the eastern gulf as its
abundance increases in the northern gulf (Schirripa and Legault 1999).
Standardized commercial catch rates have increased slowly since at least 1992 on the
Atlantic coast and increased more dramatically from 1996-2002 on the gulf coast, after which catch rates have
slowly decline through 2005 (Figs. 4, 5). The total-catch rates for the Atlantic coast recreational fishery appear
to have declined slightly through the late 1990s and have since increased slowly through 2005 (Fig. 6). With
the exception of the dramatic increase in 1997, the gulf coast’s recreational catch rates have fluctuated
around two to three fish per trip since the early 1990s (Fig. 7).
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Florida’s Inshore and Nearshore Species
by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
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