Red Snapper

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Red Snapper

by Geoffrey English

Red Snapper, or Lutjanus Campechanus, are prized fish, and in recent years have become closely protected in US waters.  They are considered to be the most valuable snapper in their area, found in regions along the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic.  They are seen as far north as Massachusetts, but most rarely travel north of the Carolinas.  Northern Red Snapper are not found in the Caribbean like their southern brothers are. The younger members of the species are usually found in shallow waters in and around mud floors. The adults are found in deeper water, where they surround themselves in shipwrecks and rough, rocky terrain. 

The red eye of the Red Snapper is a distinguishing mark.
As indicated by their name, Red Snappers are usually pink/red in color. They are also known for their red eyes which distinguish them from many other species.  They have a pointed anal fin which differs from the rounded ones of other fish in the area.  Younger Red Snappers have dark spots on their dorsal fins, but they lose these spots as they progress into adulthood.  Northern Red Snappers get confused with the southern Red Snapper which is quite similar in appearance. The only way to distinguish between the two is to understand that they have a different size and the number of anal fin rays.

Red Snappers spawn more than 20 times a year.  Spawning lasts between 4 to 6 days, and activity peaks during the months or July and August.  As the fish mature, they are able to spawn more frequently and produce more eggs with each event. They typically lay early in the evening, leaving the eggs to float along in the water currents.

A Red Snapper’s diet consists mostly of smaller fish, worms and crustaceans.  They feed mainly on mud bottoms although they are considered to be reef fish. Their bright coloring doesn’t allow them to hide and ambush their prey, so they eat slow moving prey that either can’t see or can’t move fast enough to escape. Red Snappers tend to stay in one location once they reach adulthood, not migrating far unless food supplies are low.

Red Snapper can ofter be caught on fresh bait, jigs, or both.
As indicated by their diet, Red Snappers respond best to slow or non-moving bait.  Usually cut or whole fish works well.  They like to nibble at their food, so don’t go setting the hook too quickly.  Once hooked, they are strong fighters, but not very aggressive.  

Shrimp fishing was once considered to be a threat to the Red Snapper, so laws were passed to protect the fish in US waters.  Young Red Snappers would get caught along with the shrimp, hurting the survival of the species. Most wouldn’t be found in the catch until it was too late. These new restrictions have shown improvements in the population, keeping the young snapper out of harm’s way.

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