The Red Snapper Fish – Lutjanus campechanus – is native to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, found mainly off the southeastern coast of the US, the Red Snapper has been found as far north as Massachusetts.
As the name suggests the Red Snapper has a distinctive red appearance, the intense red coloration on the back of the fish, mutes towards the under belly. Similar in shape to other Snappers, the Red Snapper boasts 10 dorsal spines and 14 dorsal rays, with 3 anal spines which are complimented with 8-9 soft anal rays. Younger fish have a distinctive dark spot on their side, just below the anterior soft dorsal rays; the spot fades as the fish matures.
The Red Snapper prefers waters 30 to 200 feet deep, although there are reports of Red Snapper being caught as deep as 300 feet.
Red Snappers are reported to be able to live for more than 50 years and it isn’t unusual for Red Snappers to weigh in at 50 pounds. A fully grown adult can reach up to 100 cms. although, 60 cms. would seem to be the more common size.
The preferred habitat of the Red Snapper as with many fish changes with age, newly hatched fish spread out over large areas of open benthic, slowly moving on to low-relief habitats, oyster beds are the ideal choice where available. At approximately one year old the young fish will move to intermediate-relief habitats, which have been vacated by the previous year’s fish. This process continues with the fish gradually moving up to different locations until they reach maturity, when the habitat changes to artificial reefs such as oil platforms, the larger of the adults occupy deeper water, spreading themselves out over open habitats and reefs, these mature fish won’t share their territory with smaller Red Snappers, although they will school with others of about the same size usually around ship wrecks and oil rigs.
Red Snapper can be caught with rod and reel and is very popular with sports fishermen, as Red Snappers tend to be nibblers; the sportsman needs some skill to land the catch. Red Snappers require the right bait, and for it to be delivered to them in the right way, using multiple hooks; bait generally consists of squid, whole medium sized fish or small strips of fish such as Amberjack.
The Red Snapper is highly prized for its meat and due to its size is a high meat yield fish, making it ideal for both commercial and the sports fishermen. Red Snapper fish meat is a firm favorite with Mexicans and Americans, for this reason a large increase in the number of sports fishermen seeking the Red Snapper has been reported by the Louisiana fishing charter guide license authority, the increase has gone up over eight fold in recent years, both by sports and commercial fishermen.
Researchers are now concerned about the numbers of young Red Snappers which are being caught as bycatch by commercial shrimp trawlers. The loss of young Red Snappers in this way could have a devastating effect on the numbers of Adult fish able to reproduce and keep the waters stocked with Red Snapper.