Sciaenops ocellatus is a robust, elongate and moderately compressed
Sciaenid that reaches as much as 150 cm (5 feet) in length, and
may weigh in excess of 41 kg (90 pounds). The head is straight in
profile, with a cone-shaped snout and large, inferior mouth.
The first gill arch bears 7-8 gill rakers on the lower limb. The
dorsal fin bears 11 spines, the third and fourth of which are the
longest. The eleventh dorsal spine is separate from the others.
A deep notch separates the spinous potion of the dorsal fin from
the soft dorsal fin, which has 23-25 soft rays. The anal fin has
2 spines and 8-9 soft rays. Scales are large and ctenoid, with 45
- 50 running along the lateral line, which extends to the posterior
margin of the truncate caudal fin. Body color is typically an iridescent
silvery gray, bronze or copper dorsally, fading to silver laterally
and whitish ventrally. There are one or more dark spots set near
the base of the caudal fin. The caudal fin and dorsal fins are dusky
in color, while the anal and pelvic fins are more pale. No barbels
are present on the chin, as occurs in other drums (Hoese and Moore
II. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Sciaenops ocellatus, the red drum, occurs from the Gulf
of Maine south through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to approximately
Tuxpan, Mexico. It is most common in Florida and in coastal waters
off Louisiana and Texas (Reagan 1985).
Red drum are common throughout the IRL, but are especially abundant
in the northern Indian River Lagoon in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral.
III. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION
Age, Size, Lifespan:
Sciaenops ocellatus grows to 150 cm (5 feet) or more and
may weigh more than 41 kg (90 pounds). They may live 40 years or
longer (Taylor and Murphy 1994).
Growth is fastest during the first
year of life. Johnson et al (1977) reported newly hatched red drum
reached 5.1 mm (0.2 inches) total length (TL) within 12 days of
hatching. Parrish (1968) studied growth in red drum, reporting that
juveniles hatched in winter grew to 71 mm (2.8 inches) standard
length (SL) by March, 109 mm (4.3 inches) by April, 147 mm (5.8
inches) by May, and 216 mm (8.5 inches) by June. Roessler (1970)
reported that red drum in the Everglades grew 20 mm (0.79 inches)
TL per month during the fall and winter months and were approximately
81 mm (3.2 inches) TL by March.
Perret et al (1980) reported growth
rates per day in tagged and recaptured Florida red drum. In this
study, 282 mm (11.1 inches) fishes grew approximately 0.66 mm (0.03
inches) per day (Topp 1963); 310 mm (12.2 inches) fishes grew 0.58
mm (0.03 inches) per day (Beaumariage and Wittich 1964); 350 mm
(13.8 inches) fishes grew 0.35 mm (0.01 inches) per day; (Beaumariage
1964); 420 mm (16.5 inches) fishes grew 0.24 mm (0.009 inches) per
day; and 655 mm (25.8 inches) fishes grew 0.098 mm (0.004 inches)
per day (Beaumariage and Wittich 1964).
Etzold and Christmas (1979) reported
mean standard lengths of red drum by age in Mississippi. Age I fishes
were approximately 340 mm (13.4 inches) , Age II were 540 mm (21.3
inches); Age III were 640 mm (25.2 inches); Age IV were 750 mm (29.5
inches); and Age V were 840 mm (33.07 inches).
Red drum are fully mature at lengths of approximately 305 - 750
mm (12 - 29.5 inches) TL when they are 4-5 years old (Pearson 1928).
Males begin maturing at 1-3 years old, females at 3-6 years.
Red drum in
some areas migrate from estuaries to the deeper waters of inlets
and bay mouths for spawning, while others spawn within estuaries.
In eastern Florida, spawning occurs during the fall
when daylight hours begin to shorten and water temperatures begin
to cool. On
Florida's Gulf coast, spawning begins in September, peaking in October
(Yokel 1966). In the
northern Gulf of Mexico, red
drum spawn from August through December. In Alabama spawning occurs
from mid-August through December, while in Mississippi, spawning
occurs from from September through November.
Spawning behavior in red drum was
described by Guest and Lasswell (1978). Males initiate spawning
by vibration of the swim bladder to produce a drumming sound. Drumming
increases in intensity around dusk as males encounter females and
swim nearer to them, nudging them in their abdomens. When females
are finally induced to release eggs, males swim close to them, releasing
milt. Spawning behavior in this study peaked between 9:30 - 10:00
Red drum held in mariculture ponds
in Florida produced 20,000 - 2 million eggs per spawn (Roberts et
Eggs of Sciaenops ocellatus are spherical in shape, measure
0.80 - 0.98 mm (0.03 - 0.04 inches) in diameter
and contain 1 or more clear oil droplets (Johnson et al 1977).
Optimum hatching and survival temperature was estimated by Holt
et al. (1981) to be 25 °C (77 °F) and
30 parts per thousand (ppt), with hatching success decreased at
higher temperature and lower salinity. Eggs were noted to sink at
salinities below 20 ppt.
Eggs hatch as larvae 4-6 mm (0.16 - 0.23 inches)
total length. At this stage, the dorsal and caudal finfolds are
continuous with the well developed caudal fin, and the pelvic and
pectoral fins are underdeveloped. Many brown chromatophores are
present at the bases of the anal fin, and the dorsal fin (Pearson
Postlarvae are approximately 7 mm (0.27 inches)
TL, and retain a small area of the ventral finfold between the anal
fin and the vent. Chromatophores are now present on the head and
along the length of the body. By 10 mm (0.39) TL, postlarvae are
heavily pigmented. Color patterns develop at approximately 25 mm
(0.98 inches) TL. By this point, scales and teeth have now developed.
Body color becomes silvery with a row of 5-7 blotches of heavy pigment
along the lateral line (Pearson 1928).
Postlarvae spend approximately 20 days in
the water column before becoming demersal (Rooker et al 1999).
IV. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES
Red drum tolerate widely varying temperatures of 2 - 37.5 °C
(35.6 - 99.5 °F).
However, sudden environmental changes cause physical stress and
can lead to mass mortality (Gunter 1941). Based on laboratory studies
by Holt et al. (1981) hatching success and larval survival is optimized
at temperatures of 25 °C
and 30 ppt salinity, with better survival and growth at 25 - 30
(77 - 86 °F).
Postlarvae and juveniles less than 120 mm (4.7 inches) also had
a preference for waters of 25 °C
Red drum tolerate both low
and high salinity and have been collected from waters where salinity
was measured between 0.14 - 50 ppt (Gunter and Hall 1962; Simmons
and Breuer 1962). They can be successfully acclimated to freshwater
(Lasswell et al 1977).
Holt et al.
(1981) showed that eggs of red drum float when salinity is above
25 ppt, but sink at salinity below 20 ppt, likely reducing egg survival
in low salinity waters. Postlarvae and juveniles less than 120 mm
(4.7 inches) showed a preference for 30 - 35 ppt salinity (Loman
V. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
Sciaenops ocellatus are major predators of fishes and decapods
within estuaries. The smallest juveniles, less than 10 mm (0.4 inches)
TL, consume primarily copepods. Juveniles 10 - 49 mm (0.4 - 1.9
inches) TL consume up to 67% mysids; juveniles 50
- 69 mm (1.9 - 2.7 inches) consume up to 57% fishes; juveniles
70 - 99 mm (2.7 - 3.9 inches) TL consume up to 60% decapods; juveniles
100 - 149 mm (3.9 - 5.7 inches) consume mainly decapods, fishes,
and mysids; while those 150 - 180 mm (5.9 - 7.0 inches) consume
decapods and smaller fishes (Bass and Avault 1975).
Adults feed mostly on fish, shrimp
and crabs. Important fish species in the diet include menhaden,
anchovies, and inshore lizardfish. Boothby and Avault (1971) reported
that fishes are apparently more important to the diet during the
winter and spring months, while a changeover to crabs is observed
in the summer and fall.
The role red drum play as prey for other species has not been widely
Though red drum inhabit both inshore and offshore waters, the majority
of life cycle is spent in nearshore waters and estuaries (Reagan
1985). Postlarvae and small juveniles move into rivers, bays, canals,
and the mangrove creeks of estuaries (Miles 1950, Bass and Avault
1975, Holt et al 1983; Peter and McMichael 1987), utilizing these
areas as well as seagrasses as nursery grounds. Older
juveniles are commonly captured over sand and mud substrates, tending
to move into wetlands on the high tide (Bass and Avault 1975). Subadults
are also found in these habitats, tending to aggregate in seagrasses
and over oyster bars, mud flats and sand bottoms.
Adults on Florida's
Atlantic coast are found primarily in nearshore waters, except in
east central Florida, where they are found in large numbers within
the Indian River Lagoon, especially in the northern reaches of the
Lagoon around Cape Canaveral. Gulf of Mexico populations tend to
travel in schools in nearshore waters, with some returning to estuaries
in the summer. Many of the larger fishes however, remain in nearshore
waters year-round (Simmons and Breuer 1962).
Edge effects are apparently
important to red drum juveniles, as they are more commonly collected
on patch edges than in the interiors of seagrass flats (Reagan 1985).
Sciaenops ocellatus feed both in daylight and in the evening
hours. Juveniles measuring 65-85 mm (2.6 - 3.3 inches) TL fed primarily
on grass shrimp during daylight hours, but switched to spot (Leiostomus
xanthurus) during the evening hours
(Bass and Avault 1975).
VI. SPECIAL STATUS
The U.S. total
harvest for red drum from 1987 - 2001 was 9.04 million pounds, with
a value of approximately $9.4 million. The average harvest per year
is approximately 600,000 pounds, with the bulk of the harvest taken
There has been no reported
commercial fishery for red drum in Florida since 1988 when commercial
harvesting was essentially banned. However, even when the red drum
fishery was active, the commercial harvest accounted for only 5-16%
of the total catch on the Atlantic coast and 14-36% on the Gulf
coast (Murphy 2005).
The red drum is one of the most important recreational species throughout
its range due to its intense fight and popularity as a food fish.
Louisiana typically has the largest annual recreational harvest
of red drum, with most catches higher in inshore waters rather than
in offshore waters.
1987 in Florida, there has been an increasing trend in total number
of fishing trips directed at red drum each year. Since 1995, there
have been approximately 1.1 annual directed fishing trips for red
drum on the Atlantic coast, and 1.8 million since 1995 on the Gulf
coast.(Murphy 2005). Fishing mortality rates for Sciaenops ocellatus
have been increasing on both coasts since 1990, reaching historical
highs in the early 2000s (Murphy 2005). The 2003 recreational harvest
in Florida totaled 2.3 million pounds. Landings were greater on
the Gulf coast, which accounted for approximately 69% of statewide
landings. 2003 landings were 17% higher than occurred in the previous
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates the
fishery for red drum. Current regulations state that to be harvested,
red drum must measure not less than 18, or more than 27 inches.
There is a bag limit one per person per day.
1. Survey data for the red drum recreational fishery showing
the number of fishes harvested in East Florida waters from 1997
- 2004. Data
provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics
2. Summary of the red drum recreational harvest and percentage
of total by area from 1997 - 2004.
Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics
1. Summary data for recreational fishery in Eastern Florida
waters for the red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, from 1997 -
2004. Data provided by National Marine Fisheries Service,
Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.
2. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the red
drum harvest for the years 1997 - 2001. Data
provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics
3. Summary of the red drum recreational harvest and percentage
of total fish captured in each area from 1997 - 2004. Data
provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics
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habits, length-weight relationship, condition factor and growth
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Page last updated: September 29, 2005