The main source of yellowtail snapper from the U.S. comes from the Florida Gulf Coast and is one of the most popular species for both commercial and recreational fishermen. Yellowtail snapper are easy to identify with the conspicuous yellow line that covers the entire length of the body, from eye to a deep-forked tail. Some consider yellowtail snapper the best eating snapper because of the light, flaky meat. When buying whole yellowtail snapper look for shiny skin with scales in tact, a deep red or pink gill color, and shiny belly. Yellowtail snapper fillets should have a translucent look when raw and a firm flesh with no discoloration.
Based on average landings of yellowtail snapper from 2014-2016 and using the most recent 2013 (U.S.), 2016 (Brazil), and 2018 (Mexico) Seafood Watch reports, the sustainability breakdown of yellowtail snapper is as follows:
~10% of global landings of yellowtail snapper meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (line-caught from the United States)
~70% of global landings of yellowtail snapper meet a Seafood Watch "Avoid (red)" rating (~70% from Brazil and ~30% from Mexico)
~20% of global landings of yellowtail snapper are unrated (~45% from Nicaragua and ~55% from seven other countries)
Global landings of yellowtail snapper have been very consistent over the recent years with ~5% increase comparing 2016 to 2014
Over 95% of U.S. landings come from the Florida Gulf Coast and are caught by troll and hand lines
Yellowtail snappers have oval-shaped bodies that range from an olive to bluish color with yellow spots on their back. On their stomach, they have narrow pink and yellow stripes. The species is named after a yellow lateral line that runs along their body. This line widens towards their caudal fin (tail) and their deeply forked tail is entirely yellow. Their other fins are a yellow color as well. The maximum length for yellowtail snappers is 34 inches and they can weigh up to five pounds. The lifespan of the species if between six and 14 years.
The species is fast-growing and females usually reach sexual maturity around three years of age, when they measure about 10 inches in length. Spawning occurs year-round, but has a noted decline in winter months. Peaks in spawning occur at different times, depending on the area of the population. During spawning, this species forms offshore aggregations. Eggs are released into the water column and once fertilized, hatch within 24 hours. Yellowtail snapper larvae is planktonic. They eventually settle out of the planktonic phase onto substrate that offers them some protection from predators.
As adults, yellowtail snappers mainly feed at night. They eat invertebrates such as crabs, shrimp, cephalopods and worms. They also feed on smaller fish. Juvenile yellowtail snappers feed on plankton. Predators of yellowtail snapper include sharks and other larger predatory fish such as barracuda, mackerel, grouper, and even other snapper species.
Yellowtail snapper inhabit the western Atlantic from Massachusetts south to Brazil, including Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. They are most common in the Gulf Coast of Florida through the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Yellowtail snapper are generally found in depths from 66-230 feet (20-70 meters), but can be found in shallower waters as well as depths up to 591 feet (180 meters). Juveniles reside in inshore waters in estuaries, seagrass beds, and bays where the vegetation provides protection from predators and serves as nursery areas. Adults are associated with both coral and rock reefs. Unlike other snapper species, yellowtail snapper are less associated with hard-bottoms and are usually seen well above the seafloor. Adults form schools and once established in an area, tend to stay there for significant periods of time.
Science & Management
More population research is needed for this species, as the stock structure is not clearly understood in certain areas. Genetic analysis has detected different stocks in the Florida Keys, the west and east coasts of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and offshore of St. Croix. It is still unknown whether different stocks exist between the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean regions. The last stock assessment for US South Atlantic and US Gulf of Mexico yellowtail snapper was in 2012 and it concluded that the species is not overfished. There has been no additional information on the stock status of yellowtail snapper since that last assessment was completed.
NOAA Fisheries, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (GMFMC) manage the yellowtail snapper fisheries in the United States.
The SAFMC began managing yellowtail snapper in 1984 with the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP covers over 70 different species and has been amended numerous times to account for changes in the fishery. Among the management measures are:
A limited entry program;
Minimum size limits (12 inches for yellowtail snapper);
Annual catch limits (for both the commercial and recreational fisheries) and trip limits; and,
Amongst the gear restrictions includes a ban on bottom longline gear in depths of less than 300 feet that has been in place since 1991. As of 2007 marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established to help deep-water species rebuild from overfishing and to protect important habitat.
The GMFMC has been managing yellowtail snapper since 1983 as part of its Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan. Over 30 different species are managed along with yellowtail snapper under this plan, notably red and vermillion snapper. Much of the FMP and its subsequent amendments focus on management measures for red snapper. However, many of these measures benefit both yellowtail and vermillion snapper. Amongst management measures included in the FMP are:
A limited entry program;
Minimum size limits (12 inches for yellowtail snapper);
Area and seasonal closures and the establishment of artificial reefs; and,
Annual catch limits (for both the commercial and recreational fisheries) as well as individual fishing quotas.
Other measures include mandatory trip reporting, vessel monitoring systems, and observer coverage.
Overall, yellowtail snapper in both the US Atlantic and the US Gulf of Mexico have maintained healthy biomass levels. While the SAFMC and GMFMC manage yellowtail snapper separately, these regions are combined for stock assessment purposes. According to the most recent stock assessment in 2012, yellowtail snapper are not overfished nor experiencing overfishing.
There is no species-specific management plan for yellowtail snapper in Brazil as there are no size restrictions, catch limits, seasonal and area closures, or other spatial management strategies in place. There are some reefs inside Marine Protected Areas that are under no-take or multiple-use regimes; however, these areas account for a very small percentage of Brazil’s entire exclusive economic zone and are therefore limited in their ability to reverse declines in snapper and other reef fish abundance.
The Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food (SAGARPA) is the government body in Mexico that, amongst its other responsibilities, promotes the execution of policies to improve the production of Mexican fisheries. The National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (CONAPESCA) is a branch of SAGARPA that is in charge of developing and implementing management regulations. The National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA) is the technical branch of SAGARPA that provides support and management recommendations. There is currently no management plan is in place for the snapper fishery. The current stock status is unknown, but it is widely considered to be in decline and it is likely the fishery is having negative impacts on both target and non-target species. There are no seasonal and spatial regulations to protect the species and there are no official minimum size limits. Snapper are considered to be an associated species in the management plan for red grouper, yet there are no specific regulations in the plan for snapper other than a fishery permit limit and restrictions on hook sizes that apply to the entire fishery as a whole.
Yellowtail snapper in the US South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico have maintained a healthy biomass and a sustainable level of fishing pressure. According to the 2012 stock assessment, yellowtail snapper are not overfished nor experiencing overfishing.
Yellowtail snapper is considered to be overfished in Brazil. There are no formal stock assessments available for yellowtail snapper in Mexico, but it is believed the population is generally decreasing.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Most snapper fishing occurs over rocky substrates such as coral, artificial reefs, and rocky bottoms using vertical line gear. Vertical line gear such as hydraulic/electric reels, rod and reels, and handlines have a very low impact on the ecosystem.
A wide variety of fish and invertebrates are caught in the US South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico snapper fisheries. Many species caught in these fisheries are not of conservation concern, but the impact snapper fisheries may be having on gag grouper in the Gulf of Mexico and snowy and red grouper in the South Atlantic is unclear.
According to Seafood Watch, management of US Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic snapper fisheries is moderately effective. Management measures such as a limited entry program, annual catch limits, as well as gear, minimum size, and seasonal and area restrictions have worked to address diminishing snapper stocks. Yellowtail snapper is assessed with some regularity, but independent fishery data is lacking and red and vermillion stock productivity has been in decline.
Management of Brazilian and Mexican snapper stocks is ineffective according to Seafood Watch as there are no species-specific management plans in place for yellowtail snapper.