navigation

Red Snapper

Lutjanus campechanus

Also Known As

  • Snapper
  • Genuine red snapper
  • American reds
  • Spot snapper

U.S. wild-caught red snapper is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under rebuilding plans that allow limited harvest by U.S. fishermen.

Population

Below target level in the Gulf of Mexico and fishing rate promotes population growth. Significantly below target population levels in the South Atlantic. Rebuilding plans are in place.

Fishing Rate

At recommended level in the Gulf of Mexico. Reduced to end overfishing in the South Atlantic.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gear used to harvest red snapper has minimal impacts on habitat.

Bycatch

Regulations require modified fishing gear to reduce bycatch. Release techniques improve the chance of survival of unintentionally caught fish.

  • Availability

    U.S. wild-caught red snapper is available fresh year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from North Carolina to Texas.

  • Taste

    Red snapper has a sweetly mild but distinctive flavor.

  • Texture

    Red snapper is semi-firm, lean, and moist.

  • Color

    The meat is pinkish with yellow tones when raw and turns somewhat lighter when cooked. Red snapper have trademark red skin and red eyes and come from domestic fisheries. To aid in identification, they are usually sold with the skin on.

  • Health Benefits

    Red snapper is low in saturated fat and sodium and is a very good source of protein.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In the Gulf of Mexico in 2016, commercial landings of red snapper totaled approximately 6.5 million pounds and were valued at more than $26 million.
    • In the South Atlantic, the commercial sector was closed in 2010-2011 and 2015-2016.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Commercial fishermen mainly use hook-and-line gear (handlines and electric reels) to harvest red snapper, and sometimes use longlines (in the Gulf of Mexico) and spears.
    • Commercial fishermen using hook and line gear attach multiple hooks to a vertical line and weight it at the bottom.
    • Recreational anglers primarily use hook and line gear to harvest red snapper.
    • Fishermen are encouraged to use venting tools and recompression devices when releasing fish suffering from barotrauma. Barotrauma occurs when the swim bladder of a fish expands as it is quickly brought to the surface. Venting tools help deflate the swim bladder and recompression devices help the fish return to the depth at which it was caught to recompress the air in the swim bladder, preventing serious injury to the fish.
    • In the Gulf of Mexico:
      • Regulations prohibit fishing in certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico to protect sensitive fish populations and habitats.
      • Measures are in place to reduce sea turtle bycatch by longline gear and include limiting times or areas where fishermen can fish, gear restrictions, and a limit on the number of vessels that can participate in the reef fish fishery.  In addition, all commercial fishermen must follow special sea turtle release protocols and have specialized gear to improve the chances of incidentally caught sea turtles to survive.
    • In the South Atlantic:
      • Circle hooks are required when fishing for snapper and grouper species north of latitude 28° N. De-hooking devices are also required in the South Atlantic for snapper-grouper species.
      • Measures are in place to reduce sea turtle bycatch by fishing gear and include gear restrictions and handling requirements, and a limit on the number of vessels that can participate in the snapper-grouper fishery.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Recreational anglers primarily use hook and line gear to harvest red snapper.
    • In the Gulf of Mexico:
      • Recreational anglers landed more than 7 million pounds of Gulf of Mexico red snapper in 2016.
      • Red snapper must be a minimum size to be caught, and there is a limit on how many red snapper anglers can keep per day.
      • Charter vessels and headboats must have a permit to fish in federal waters.
      • For-hire vessels must use specialized gear and follow certain sea turtle release protocols.
    • In the South Atlantic:
      • In 2012, 2013, and 2014 the red snapper season was limited.
      • In 2010-2011 and 2015-2016, the red snapper fishery was closed.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2018 stock assessment of Gulf of Mexico red snapper the stock is not overfished. The stock is rebuilding and a rebuilding plan is in place. Regulations are in place to ensure that the combined commercial and recreational catches are low enough to prevent overfishing.

  • According to the 2016 stock assessment of South Atlantic red snapper, the stock is overfished and subject to overfishing. The stock is rebuilding and a rebuilding plan is in place. The overfishing determination was based on fishing mortality rates from 2012-2014 when fishing was occurring on the stock, and harvest was prohibited in the South Atlantic in 2015 and 2016. Spawning biomass has generally been increasing since the mid-1990s, but continues to be well below the target level (currently at 22 percent). It will take time for older, more fertile fish to rebuild; however, the numbers of red snapper predicted by the assessment are the highest on record since the 1970s.

Location

  • Red snapper are generally found at 30 to 620 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico and along the eastern coasts of North America, Central America, and northern South America.
  • They are rare north of the Carolinas.

Habitat

  • Larval red snapper swim freely within the water column.
  • Juveniles live in shallow waters over sandy or muddy bottom habitat.
  • Adults live on the bottom, usually near hard structures on the continental shelf that have moderate to high relief (for example, coral reefs, artificial reefs, rocks, ledges, and caves), sloping soft-bottom areas, and limestone deposits.

Physical Description

  • Red snapper in deeper waters tend to be redder than those caught in shallower waters.
  • They have a long triangular face with the upper part sloping more strongly than the lower.
  • Their jaws are equal, with the lower one sometimes slightly projecting.
  • They have enlarged canine teeth, which is why they are called “snappers.”

Biology

  • Red snapper grow at a moderate rate, and may reach 40 inches long and 50 pounds.
  • They can live a long time—red snapper as old as 57 years have been reported in the Gulf of Mexico and as old as 51 years in the South Atlantic.
  • Females are able to reproduce as early as age 2.
  • Males and females spawn from May to October, depending on their location.
  • Red snapper feed on fish, shrimp, crab, worms, cephalopods (octopus or squid), and some plankton (tiny floating plants and animals).
  • Young red snapper are food for the large carnivorous fish that share their habitat, such as jacks, groupers, sharks, barracudas, and morays.
  • Large marine mammals and turtles also eat snapper.

Research

Last updated: 09/05/2018