The main source of red snapper is the Gulf of Mexico (both U.S. and Mexico). Red snapper from the U.S. is almost always sold with the skin-on. When buying whole red snapper, look for deep red fins, pinkish-silver bellies, and red gills that look healthy. When buying fillets, choose skin-on as skin-off fillets might not be genuine red snapper. The white flesh of a red snapper should be moist and reflective, free of gaping and drying. When used for sushi, red snapper is known as tai although several other species are also marketed as tai. Beware of mislabeling: red snapper sold on the U.S. West Coast ("Pacific red snapper") may actually be rockfish, which has a very different texture and flavor.
Based on average landings of red snapper from 2014-2016 and using the most recent 2013 (U.S.) and 2018 (Mexico) Seafood Watch reports, the sustainability breakdown of red snapper is as follows:
Landings split between the U.S. and Mexico is approximately 40/60 respectively
~40% of global red snapper landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (~95% of U.S. landings: ~35% from Texas and Florida Gulf, ~25% from Louisiana, and ~5% from Alabama)
~60% of global red snapper landings meet a Seafood Watch "Avoid (red)" rating (longline-caught from Mexico and assumes all fish is caught using this method)
Comparing 2016 to 2014, red snapper landings increased overall ~30% (~50% in Mexico and ~10% in the U.S.)
Red snapper grow up to 40 inches in length and 50 pounds. Females are able to reproduce as early as two years old, with spawning season lasting from May to October. Red snapper live a long life – up to 57 years old reported in the Gulf of Mexico, and 51 years old reported in the South Atlantic. Populations found in deeper waters tend to be redder than those in shallower waters.
Red snapper are nocturnal predators, feeding on fish, crab, worms, shrimp, octopus or squid, and some plankton. Their enlarged canine teeth are a definitive characteristic, which led to the name “snapper.” They are prey to marine mammals, turtles, and larger carnivorous fish such as: jacks, grouper, sharks, barracudas, and morays.
Red snapper are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the US Atlantic with the Atlantic range extending from Florida to Massachusetts – though the species is considered rare north of the Carolinas. Larval red snapper inhabit the water column while juveniles live in shallow waters usually over sandy or muddy bottoms. Adults live on the ocean bottom at depths from 30 to 620 feet deep on the continental shelf. Adult red snapper are generally found near hard structures with moderate to high relief such as coral and artificial reefs, ledges, and caves. They can also be found near soft-bottom areas and limestone deposits.
Science & Management
Researchers have been able to successfully raise snappers in captivity, and are now calling for development of a red snapper aquaculture component to the commercial industry, as well as development of techniques to use hatchery-reared red snapper as a tool in fishery management and wild stock rebuilding. Red snapper are being tagged as part of a collaborative catch-and-release program, allowing researchers to monitor exploitation rates. In order to answer questions about movement, growth, and harvest affects, red snapper has been targeted for intensive research over the next few years.
Young red snapper have been released off the coast of Sarasota, FL in artificial reef habitats to monitor the use of hatchery-raised populations as supplemental to the native Gulf of Mexico populations. Data collection programs in Florida, as part of the Enhanced Assessment for Recovery of Gulf of Mexico Fisheries, use survey methods to monitor the number of anglers fishing for reef fish in the Gulf, how many trips were taken, and the amount and size of the fish harvested.
NOAA Fisheries, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (GMFMC) manage the red snapper fisheries in the United States.
The SAFMC began managing red snapper in 1984 with the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. The Plan has been amended numerous times to establish limited entry programs, minimum harvest size requirements, fishing quotas, and other measures to protect and rebuild red snapper populations that have declined over decades of intense fishing pressure. In 1991, the SAFMC prohibited the use of bottom longline gear in depths less than 300 feet and in 2007 established Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to help deep-water species rebuild. In 2008 the SAFMC prohibited the take of all red snapper due to low stock assessments. A rebuilding plan was implemented in 2010 with the goal of rebuilding the South Atlantic red snapper stock by 2045. In 2010 and 2011 regulations again prohibited harvest of red snapper to allow the population of larger, older fish to increase. Limited harvest of red snapper has been allowed since 2012 although the stock is still considered overfished despite efforts to improve the fishery.
The GMFMC has been managing red snapper since 1983 with the development of the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan. Although 31 species are managed under this plan, red snapper has been a large focus of the GMFMC due to its commercial importance and historic stock decline. Since its inception, the plan has been amended over 20 times to help rebuild the Gulf population. In 2001, a rebuilding plan was formally enacted with the goal of rebuilding the stock by 2032. Among the measures the plan addresses are:
An annual total allowable catch limit for both the commercial and recreational fisheries
A minimum harvest size to protect spawning stock and juvenile red snapper
The establishment of an individual fishing quota (IFQ) catch share program for commercial fishermen. Under the program commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest red snapper, but can chose to do so at their discretion as long as they are reporting their catch
Gear restrictions and closed areas
A 2013 stock assessment for Gulf of Mexico red snapper indicated that the stock was overfished, but increasing and that overfishing was no longer occurring. The recovery of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper has been deemed a success story for US fisheries management.
Red snapper, found in the Atlantic from North Carolina to northern South America, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, are slow growing, long lived and have moderate vulnerability to fishing pressure. Red snapper in the United States was heavily fished for decades, leading to it being overfished. The population has been rebuilding to the point where it is no longer experiencing overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico. However, red snapper in the South Atlantic is still well below the target level.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Fishermen primarily use hook and line gear in the form of handlines and electric reels to catch red snapper. This type of gear has a low impact on the ocean habitat. A very small percentage is also caught using longlines, which have a moderate impact on the habitat.
Sea turtles and sawfish are vulnerable to hook and line gear. In the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen using hook and line gear must use circle hooks and dehooking devices to help any non-targeted fish survive, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Snapper fishermen have inadvertently caught speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, gag grouper, loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, snowy grouper, Atlantic bluefin tuna, and blacknose shark. But most of the non-targeted fish caught in the fishery are not species of concern, the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported. Juvenile red snapper is also accidentally caught by shrimp fishermen, who are attempting to reduce this bycatch through improved management measures, including the use of bycatch reduction devices.
NOAA Fisheries' South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils manage red snapper. They are considered moderately effective by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In 2010, red snapper harvesting in the South Atlantic was prohibited to help the population recover from overfishing. The fishery was reopened on a limited basis in September 2012. A rebuilding plan for the Gulf of Mexico was put into place in 2001. The Environmental Defense Fund credits an innovative catch share management plan implemented in 2007 with increasing the red snapper population in that area. Management measures for that red snapper fishery include catch limits, gear restrictions, minimum size limits, an individual fishing quota program and area closures.