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Group of yellowtail snapper swimming in a reef area. Photo courtesy of V. O. Skinner, California State University Long Beach.

Close up of the head of a yellowtail snapper. Photo courtesy of V. O. Skinner, California State University Long Beach.

Species Name: Ocyurus chrysurus Bloch, 1791
Common Name: Yellowtail Snapper
Synonymy: None

    Kingdom Phylum/Division Class: Order: Family: Genus:
    Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Perciformes Lutjanidae Ocyurus

    Other Taxonomic Groupings

    Superclass: Osteichthyes
    Subclass: Neopterygii
    Infraclass: Teleostei
    Superorder: Acanthopterygii

    Species Description

    Ocyurus chrysurus is an elongate, slender, snapper that may grow to 76 cm or more in length and reach 9 pounds, though most are captured at much smaller size. The dorsal fin is continuous, with 10 strong spines, the fifth of which is the longest, and 12-14 soft rays. The anal fin has 3 spines and 8-9 rays, with the third spine longer than the second. The caudal fin is long and deeply forked, with the upper lobe longer then the lower. The pectoral fins are also long, reaching to the anus. Scales are small and ctenoid, with 48-49 lateral line scales. In profile, the dorsal area is only slightly elevated, with a slight curve between the nape and the dorsal fin. The mouth is small in comparison with other snappers and is set obliquely, with the lower jaw projecting beyond the upper. The maxillary extends beyond the front of the orbit.

    The upper jaw and the vomer each have a narrow band of villiform teeth, with the upper jaw also having 5-6 lateral canine teeth. The lower jaw has larger villiform teeth. The preopercule is weakly serrated, and those at the angle are shallowly emarginated. Body color is distinctive. The dorsal surface is bluish to olive green in color, fading along the sides to white along the ventral surface. A strong yellow stripe runs midlaterally along the sides, originating on the snout and broadening as it runs the length of the body to the depth of the entire caudal peduncle. Yellow spots pepper the upper body above the midlateral stripe. The caudal fin is entirely yellow. The dorsal fin is yellow distally, but pale at its base and anteriorly. All other fins are pale yellow or clear in color (Bortone and Williams 1986).

    Potentially Misidentified Species

    Ocyurus chrysurus is a distinctive species that is not easily confused with other snappers.


    Regional Occurrence

    In the Western Atlantic, Ocyurus chrysurus ranges from approximately Massachusetts south to Brazil including Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico, West Indies, and the Caribbean. It is most common from South Florida through the Bahamas and Caribbean.

    IRL Distribution

    Juveniles are common in inshore areas where they utilize seagrass beds as nursery habitats. Adults are found within the IRL, especially near inlet areas, however, they are more common in nearshore and offshore waters.


    Age, Size, Lifespan

    Ocyurus chrysurus reaches a maximum size of 86.3 cm (33.9 inches) total length (TL), and may weigh as much as 4.07 kg (8.9 pounds) (IGFA 2001). they are reported to live 14 years or more.

    Growth rates in yellowtail snapper were reported by Thompson and Munro (1974) as 3.3 mm/month (0.13 inches) based on back calculated lengths at mean annulus formation in otoliths.


    Age at maturity is in question for many snapper species, with most authors relating maturity to length. Ocyurus chrysurus males become mature at approximately 26 cm (10.2 inches) fork length (FL), while females mature at 29 - 31cm (11.4 - 12.2 inches) FL (Thompson and Munro 1974). As with most snappers, the yellowtail spawns offshore in groups (Wicklund 1969; Thompson and Munro 1974). The spawning season may be protracted, with seasonal peaks in activity (Erdman 1976). Munro et al. (1973) reported ripe individuals from March through May in nearshore waters off Jamaica, but noted that yellowtail spawn year-round in offshore waters. Off Cuba, Piedra (1969) reported females were ripe between March and August. Allen (1985) reported yellowtail snapper spawning from April to August in the Florida Keys.

    Fecundity was estimated by Piedra (1969) as 99,660 - 1.5 million eggs per female for Ocyurus chrysurus measuring between 292-382 mm (11.5 - 15.0 inches) FL.

    Rodriguez-Pino 1961) reported that Ocyurus chrysurus sometimes hybridizes with lane snapper, Lutjanus synagris. They are also thought to hybridize with the dog snapper, L. jocu (Jordan and Evermann 1898).


    As with most snapper species, eggs are pelagic (Bortone and Williams 1986) and hatch after approximately 20 hours.



    Under laboratory conditions, the upper lethal temperature for Ocyurus chrysurus was 33.5° - 34.0°C (Wallace 1977) with acclimation temperature not appearing to have any effect on upper lethal limits.


    Trophic Mode

    Most snappers are classified as euryphagic carnivores (Bortone and Williams 1986). Ocyurus chrysurus differs somewhat in its feeding behavior from other snappers because it tends to feed above the substratum more than do other species. Randall (1967) reported adults eat crabs (23%), shrimp (16%), and fishes (15.9%). Off Cuba, Piedra (1969) reported yellowtail stomach contents included fish (82%), and shrimp (17%). Smaller fishes, crustaceans, marine worms, gastropods, and cephalopods have also been reported in the diet (Allen 1985).


    Primary predators of snappers are sharks and other large predatory fishes including other snappers (Bortone and Williams 1986).


    Ocyurus chrysurus is typically found at water depths of 20-70 m (66 - 230 feet) depths (Thompson and Munro 1974; Fischer 1978), but has been reported to depths from 0-180 m (0 - 590 feet). Juveniles utilize vegetated inshore waters in estuaries and bays and are common in seagrass beds (Starck 1971; Bortone and Williams 1986). Adults generally form schools, but are less associated with hard-bottoms than other snapper species (Randall 1967; Bortone and Williams 1986), inhabiting patch reefs and along the outer edges of deeper coral and rock reefs. Moe (1972) reported yellowtail snappers to be semipelagic wanderers over reef habitats. Adults tend to remain in an area once they have become established (Beaumariage 1969; Bortone and Williams 1986).

    Activity Time

    Ocyurus chrysurus feeds primarily nocturnally (Bortone and Williams 1986).


    Fisheries Importance

    Commercial Fishery
    The commercial fishery for yellowtail snapper is not especially valuable in east central Florida, though it is considerably more valuable in south Florida where average annual landings total over 1.7 million pounds and are valued at approximately $3.5 million. Data from Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) show that landings of yellowtail have changed from being fairly evenly distributed between commercial and recreational fishers from 1982 - 1992, to one more dominated by commercial interests since 1993. On the Atlantic coast of Florida catches have fluctuated without any discernable trend from 1982 - 2000. In recent years, Atlantic coast landings have been somewhat lower, now averaging approximately 167,000 pounds. On the Gulf coast, landings have fluctuated around 1.8 million pounds since 1996. In 2003, FWRI reported that yellowtail snapper landings were 4% lower statewide than in the previous 5 years.

    The statewide commercial catch of yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus, between the years 1987 - 2001 was 51.9 million pounds, with a dollar value of over $25.9 million. Within this time period, 38,001 pounds of yellowtail were harvested commercially in the 5 county area encompassing the IRL (Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties), with a dollar value of just $73,332 reported. This ranks the yellowtail snapper seventy-fourth in commercial value within the IRL, and eightieth in pounds harvested.

    Figure 1 below shows the dollar value of the commercial yellowtail snapper fishery to IRL counties by year. As shown, the commercial catch ranged from a low of $2,024 in 1994 to a high of over $11,004 in 1994. St. Lucie County accounts for the largest percentage of the yellowtail snapper catch with 32.3% in total (Figure 2), followed by Volusia County, which accounts for 28.7% of the total. Martin, Brevard and Indian River Counties accounted for 22.0%, 15.0% and 2.1% of the total respectively.

    Figure 1. Annual dollar value of the commercial catch of yellowtail snapper to the 5-county area of the Indian River Lagoon.

    Figure 2. Total yellowtail snapper dollar value and percentage by county for the years 1987 - 2001.

    YEAR Value ($) Value ($) Value ($) Value ($) Value ($) Value to IRL
    1987 $629 $309 $90 $1,333 $1,700 $4,061
    1988 $419 $326 $0 $2,429 $237 $3,411
    1989 $366 $778 $29 $4,887 $1,262 $7,322
    1990 $518 $950 $36 $258 $731 $2,493
    1991 $133 $840 $67 $6,342 $1,570 $8,952
    1992 $2,956 $1,666 $782 $4,257 $1,343 $11,004
    1993 $728 $1,604 $104 $874 $1,063 $4,373
    1994 $828 $289 $93 $350 $464 $2,024
    1995 $1,629 $281 $0 $184 $260 $2,354
    1996 $2,524 $1,874 $282 $71 $947 $5,698
    1997 $3,300 $265 $0 $174 $75 $3,814
    1998 $3,754 $1,268 $0 $833 $289 $6,144
    1999 $1,309 $123 $4 $21 $1,042 $2,499
    2000 $516 $66 $3 $355 $4,688 $5,628
    2001 $1,404 $357 $14 $1,311 $469 $3,555
    Cumulative Totals: $21,013 $10,996 $1,504 $23,679 $16,140 $73,332
    Table 1. Total dollar value of IRL yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus, from 1987 - 2001.

    % % % % %
    YEAR Total Total Total Total Total
    1987 15.49% 7.61% 2.22% 32.82% 41.86%
    1988 12.28% 9.56% 0.00% 71.21% 6.95%
    1989 5.00% 10.63% 0.40% 66.74% 17.24%
    1990 20.78% 38.11% 1.44% 10.35% 29.32%
    1991 1.49% 9.38% 0.75% 70.84% 17.54%
    1992 26.86% 15.14% 7.11% 38.69% 12.20%
    1993 16.65% 36.68% 2.38% 19.99% 24.31%
    1994 40.91% 14.28% 4.59% 17.29% 22.92%
    1995 69.20% 11.94% 0.00% 7.82% 11.05%
    1996 44.30% 32.89% 4.95% 1.25% 16.62%
    1997 86.52% 6.95% 0.00% 4.56% 1.97%
    1998 61.10% 20.64% 0.00% 13.56% 4.70%
    1999 52.38% 4.92% 0.16% 0.84% 41.70%
    2000 9.17% 1.17% 0.05% 6.31% 83.30%
    2001 39.49% 10.04% 0.39% 36.88% 13.19%
    Table 2. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the yellowtail snapper harvest for the years 1987-2001.

    Volusia Brevard Indian River St. Lucie Martin
    Dollars $21,013 $10,996 $1,504 $23,679 $16,140
    % 28.7% 15.0% 2.1% 32.3% 22.0%
    Table 3. By-county cumulative dollar value and percentage of total for the yellowtail snapper harvest from 1987 - 2001.

    Recreational Fishery
    The recreational fishery for yellowtail snapper in Florida is far less valuable than the commercial catch. In 2003, for example, recreational anglers harvested only 22% of the total catch. Recreational anglers land yellowtail in all coastal areas in Florida, with most of the recreational harvest taken from waters in southwest Florida. Data from Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) show that fewer yellowtail are landed on the Atlantic coast than on the Gulf coast of Florida, though catch rates on the Gulf coat are highly variable. Current regulations for yellowtail in Florida and federal waters are a 10 fish bag-limit, with a minimum size of 12 inches total length.

    The information below reflects angler survey information taken from the 5-county area that encompasses the Indian River Lagoon. Approximately 687,052 yellowtail snapper were harvested in the waters of east central Florida from 1997 - 2001. The vast majority of the harvest was taken in nearshore waters to 3 miles (47.4%), and in offshore waters to 200 miles (45.3%). Inland waters other than the Indian River Lagoon accounted for 7.1% of the total IRL-area harvest, with the IRL itself accounting for only 0.2% of the recreational harvest.

    Figure 3. Survey data for the yellowtail snapper recreational fishery showing the number of fishes harvested in East Florida waters from 1997 - 2004.

    Figure 4. Summary of the yellowtail snapper recreational harvest and percentage of total by area from 1997 - 2004.
    To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other Inland IRL TOTAL
    1997 11,622 24,096 1,138 36,857
    1998 24,316 55,057 738 80,111
    1999 22,619 34,524 771 57,914
    2000 31,655 49,859 18,634 100,147
    2001 26,952 44,431 1,266 72,650
    2002 33,421 20,013 3,434 56,867
    2003 53,683 24,769 5,283 696 84,431
    2004 121,535 58,695 17,845 198,075
    Total: 325,803 311,444 49,109 696 687,052
    Table 4. Summary data for recreational fishery in Eastern Florida waters for the yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus, from 1997 - 2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.

      To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other E. FL Inland IRL
    % Total % Total % Total % Total
    1997 31.5% 65.4% 3.1% 0.0%
    1998 30.4% 68.7% 0.9% 0.0%
    1999 39.1% 59.6% 1.3% 0.0%
    2000 31.6% 49.8% 18.6% 0.0%
    2001 37.1% 61.2% 1.7% 0.0%
    2002 58.8% 35.2% 6.0% 0.0%
    2003 63.6% 29.3% 6.3% 0.8%
    2004 61.4% 29.6% 9.0% 0.0%
    Table 5. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the yellowtail snapper harvest for the years 1997 - 2001. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.

    To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other Inland IRL
    No. Fish 325,803 311,444 49,109 696
    % 47.42% 45.33% 7.15% 0.10%
    Table 6. Summary of the yellowtail snapper recreational harvest and percentage of total fish captured in each area from 1997 - 2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.

    Allen, G. R. 1985. Snappers of the World: An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Lutjanid Species Known to Date. FAO Fisheries Synopsis, no. 125, vol. 6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. ISBN/ISSN: 92-5-102321-2

    Anderson, W. D., Jr. 1967. Field guide to the snappers (Lutjanidae) of the western Atlantic. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Circ. 252.

    Beaumariage, D.S. 1969. Returns from the 1965 Schlitz tagging program including a cumulative analysis of previous results. Fla. Dep. Nat. Resour. Tech. Ser. No. 59:1-38.

    Bortone, S.A., and J.L. Williams. 1986. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (South Florida) - gray, lane, mutton, and yellowtail snappers. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep. 82(11.52). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TR EL-82-4.

    Erdman, D.S. 1976. Spawning patterns of fishes from the northeastern Caribbean. Agric. Fish. Contrib. Dep. Agric. (Puerto Rico) 8(2):1-36.

    Fischer, W., ed. 1978. FAO species identification sheets for fishery purposes. Western Central Atlantic, Vol. III. FAO, Rome.

    IGFA, 2001 Database of IGFA angling records until 2001. IGFA, Fort Lauderdale, USA.

    Johnson, A.G., 1983 Age and growth of yellowtail snapper from South Florida. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 112:173-177.

    Jordan, D.S., and B.W. Evermann. 1898. The fishes of North and Middle America. Bull. U.S. Natl. Mus. 47. Part 2.

    Lindeman, K.C., R. Pugliese, G.T. Waugh and J.S. Ault, 2000 Developmental patterns within a multispecies reef fishery: management applications for essential fish habitats and protected areas. Bull. Mar. Sci. 66(3):929-956.

    Manooch, C.S., 1987 Age and growth of snappers and groupers. p. 329-373. In J.J. Polovina and S. Ralston (eds.) Tropical snappers and groupers: biology and fisheries management. Ocean Resour. Mar. Policy Ser. Westview Press, Inc., Boulder and London.

    Manooch, C.S. III and C.L. Drennon, 1987 Age and growth of yellowtail snapper and queen triggerfish collected from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Fish. Res. 6:53-68.

    Moe, M.A., Jr. 1972. Movement and migration of south Florida fishes. Fla. Dep. Nat. Resour. Tech. Ser. No. 69. l-25 pp.

    Munro, J.L., V.C. Gaut, R. Thompson, and P.H. Reeson. 1973. The spawning seasons of Caribbean reef fishes. J. Fish Biol. 5:69-84.

    Piedra, G., 1969 Materials on the biology of the yellow-tail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus Bloch). p. 251-296. In: A.S. Bogdanov (ed.) Soviet-Cuban fishery research. Isr. Progr. Sci. Trans. Jerusalem, Israel.

    Randall, J.E. 1967. Food habits of reef fishes of the West Indies. Stud. Trop. Oceanog. (Miami) 5:665-847.

    Riley, C.M., G.J. Holt and C.R. Arnold, 1995 Growth and morphology of larval and juvenile captive bred yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus. Fish. Bull. 93:179-185.

    Rodriguez-Pino, Z. 1961. Lutjanus ambiguus. Cent. Invest. Pesq. Cuba 14:1-20.

    Smith, C.L., 1997. National Audubon Society field guide to tropical marine fishes of the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York. 720 p.

    Thompson, M., and J.L. Munro. 1974. The biology, ecology, exploitation and management of Caribbean reef fishes; scientific report of the O.D.S./U.W.I. fisheries. Ecology Research Project 1969-1973. Part V. The biology, ecology and bionomics of Caribbean reef fishes: V.D. Lutjanidae (snappers). Zool. Dep. Univ. West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. Res. Rep. 3:1-69.

    Thompson, R. and J.L. Munro. 1983. The biology, ecology and bionomics of Caribbean reef fishes: Lutjanidae (snappers). p. 94-109. In: J.L. Munro (ed.) Caribbean coral reef fishery resources. ICLARM Stud. Rev 7.

    Wallace, R.K., Jr. 1977. Thermal acclimation, upper temperature tolerance and preferred temperature of juvenile yellowtail snappers, Ocyurus chrysurus (Bloch) (Pisces: Lutjanidae). Bull. Mar. Sci. 27(2):292-298.

    Wicklund, R. 1969. Observations on spawning of lane snapper. Underwater Nat. 6(2):40.

Report by: K. Hill, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: July 28, 2005

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