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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

ed drum are one of Florida’s most coloration. When taken from the
popular sport fish. They commonly water, the fish may turn a darker red.
inhabit the state’s estuaries and Most red drum have a distinct
some produce tens of millions of eggs black spot near the base of the tail,
each year. Their relative hardiness Marine Musicians but some individuals may have
and prolific nature make them ideal several spots, and others have none.
for rearing in hatcheries. A successful management plan In 1997, fish biologists identified a red drum that had
has been instrumental in restoring their populations. hundreds of spots, resembling another close relative
within the drum family, the spotted seatrout.
The body of a red drum is elongated and thick, with a
Description gently arched back and sloping head. The large scales on
Also called redfish, channel bass, spottail, red bass and the upper body are rough, while those on the breast area
“reds,” red drum are identified by the large spot usually are smooth. Red drum have two dorsal fins: the front fin
found on the tail. Their common name describes both has sharp spines, and the back fin has soft rays resembling
their color and the drumming sounds males make during a flat-top haircut. The adult’s tail is broad and either flat
spawning and when taken from the water. This drumming at the end or slightly concave. The long pectoral (side) fins
is produced when special sonic muscles vibrate against are rust-colored.
the inflated swim bladder, like fingers rubbing a balloon. Red drum in Florida may live 25 to 35 years. Atlantic
Red drum have reddish-brown backs, fading to white red drum are generally larger than those on the Gulf
below, but their color can vary depending on where the coast. Although the largest ever caught weighed 94
red drum lives. Juveniles and most large offshore reds pounds, the largest recorded in Florida was 52 pounds 5
have a copper or bronze tint. Those in the Gulf of Mexico ounces in Cocoa in 1996. The largest caught in Florida
are a lighter red than those that reside in muddy bays. with fly-fishing tackle was landed in 1995 in the Banana
Occupants of white, sandy bottoms have light, muted River and weighed 43 pounds.

Scientific Name Sciaenops ocellatus

Size  n average, red drum can grow to 40 inches, 40 pounds on the Gulf of Mexico
coast; 45 inches, 52 pounds on the Atlantic coast.
Range  rom Massachusetts to Key West along the Atlantic coast and throughout the Gulf
of Mexico.
Habitat Juveniles live in backwater areas with soft substrate such as tidal creeks and rivers
and venture out of nursery areas onto grass flats in the open bay after about 12-18
months. Adults normally live in open oceanic and gulf waters.
Status Only recreational harvest of red drum is permitted, with size and bag limits.

Red drum art after Diane Rome Peebles painting.

Range fertilizes the eggs with a cloud of sperm. Females release
between 1 and 5 million eggs in a single spawn and may
As red drum grow, their food preferences change.
Juveniles up to 2 years old select tiny crustaceans, whereas
Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife
Research Institute have reared red drum at the Stock
Red drum inhabit the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts spawn every three to five days. Over an entire spawning older juveniles favor crabs and fish. Red drum feed Enhancement Research Facility (SERF) in Port Manatee and
to Key West and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. They are season, they may produce tens of millions of eggs, but very primarily in the early morning and late afternoon and are released them into the wild. Using 20- to 30-pound wild-
rare in extreme southern Florida, along the Atlantic coast few will survive to adulthood. voracious eaters whose penchant for lunging at almost any caught red drum as brood stock, scientists manipulate
north of the Chesapeake Bay and along the Mexican coast The fertilized eggs, about 1 millimeter in diameter, are natural bait endears them to anglers. water temperature and hours of daylight in order to
south of Vera Cruz. Most of their life cycle is spent in clear and contain an oil droplet that keep them afloat as Mangroves, oyster beds, marsh grasses, and seagrasses stimulate spawning in captivity. The eggs, carefully tended,
nearshore waters, so their species is managed mainly by they are carried shoreward by tides. The eggs hatch within all play a critical role in the diet of red drum in southwestern hatch in about 20-30 hours, depending on temperature.
states rather than federal agencies. 20 to 30 hours based on water temperature. Each larval and southern Florida. Because these habitats are vital The larvae are reared to juveniles of various sizes and then
Red drum thrive in a wide range of salinities and fish has an attached yolk sack that provides nourishment nursery grounds, deterioration of water quality or loss of released into the wild where their survival and movements
temperatures, an adaptation that suits their versatile life for its first three days of life. After the yolk is completely suitable habitat may limit the number of young fish that are tracked. Scientists are evaluating whether this process,
history. Juveniles can tolerate fresh water, whereas larger absorbed, the larvae begin feeding on tiny floating animals become reproductive adults. known as stock enhancement, can benefit red drum and
red drum prefer higher salinities. They are comfortable called zooplankton until they reach the estuarine nursery other native stocks.
from 50°F to about 81.5°F, but small red drum can areas. An early, severe winter following spawning can From 1988 through 2004, more than 6.3 million red
withstand a greater range of temperature, from about 36°F make the larvae sluggish and unable to capture plankton. Economic Importance drum fingerlings were released into Tampa Bay, Sarasota
to 91°F. They are vulnerable to sudden drops in The fragile larvae are susceptible to changes in salinity and Throughout history, people have caught red drum for food Bay, Biscayne Bay, Indian River and estuaries in Collier
temperatures, however, and move into warmer, deeper grow best in about 30 parts per thousand salinity. After and recreation off the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to and Volusia counties. Three sizes of hatchery-reared
waters during cold spells. this stage, which lasts about two and a half weeks, gradual Georgia. In Florida, red drum were caught mainly for juveniles were released: 1 to 2 inches long, 3 to 4 inches
salinity changes are tolerated by red drum larvae. sustenance until the growth of transportation networks long and 6 inches or longer. The smallest juveniles are
In the estuary, the juveniles settle along the edges of and markets allowed fish to be shipped long distances. A about 35 days old, and the largest are about 8-10 months
Life History seagrass beds and other dense, submerged vegetation for commercial fishery for red drum began in the late 1800s, old. By studying how well these three age groups do on
Given their relatively long lives, red drum mature at a protection until they can swim and feed on the bottom. At but since the early 1980s, the majority of Florida’s red their own, researchers determine which size is most
young age. Males can spawn at about 2 years old and 4 about one inch long, the young fish begin to gather in drum catch were harvested by recreational anglers. economical to produce and survive in the wild.
pounds, whereas females are sexually mature at about 4 schools. They grow rapidly, and by 1 year old, they may be In the 1970s, Florida’s red drum populations began to
years old and 13 pounds. The fish begin spawning in the 13 to 14 inches long. Red drum continue to grow decline. Red drum apparently disappeared from Biscayne
fall when waters begin to cool and daylight hours throughout their lives, although after they are about 3 feet Bay—possibly because of declining water quality, loss of
Because Florida's east- and west-coast
decrease. Large spawning aggregations form in nearshore long, they gain more weight than length. habitat, and diversion of freshwater. The surging popularity
red drum differ genetically, researchers
waters, often close to passes and inlets, but in Brevard Juveniles less than 1 year old move in and out of of spicy, blackened redfish in the early 1980s caused
release hatchery-reared juveniles only
County’s Mosquito and northern Indian River lagoons backwater channels and canals as they develop and may similar declines along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast.
into their respective populations.
reds spawn in the estuary. Spawning season in the Gulf of remain in the estuary for up to four years. Adults move out
Mexico runs from August to mid-November, peaking in of the estuaries and join large groups of sexually mature
September. Atlantic red drum may begin as early as July fish. Although some spawn inshore, most spawn at Management Efforts Information from anglers is important in tracking the
and continue through December, peaking in September or nearshore entrances to estuaries. Beginning in 1986, state and federal governments began success of the hatchery program. In Biscayne Bay,
October. In general, Florida red drum are not long-distance enacting regulations to protect red drum, reducing scientists successfully established a small population of
travelers and tend to remain within the region in which recreational catches and in 1989 banning commercial hatchery-reared red drum to replace a wild one that either
they were spawned. In tagging studies of immature red harvests in Florida to protect depleted red drum populations. had been very small or had nearly disappeared decades
drum on Florida’s Gulf coast, 50-85 percent were Annual red drum landings declined from 2.1 million ago. Many of the hatchery-reared red drum were marked
Generally, red drum spawn in fall
recaptured within six miles of their original release site. In pounds in the mid-1980s to about 250,000 pounds in with visible external tags. Anglers who catch tagged fish
when the water is cooler and the
contrast, adult red drum in nearshore coastal waters have 1993. Recreational harvests are still allowed year-round, are asked to report their finds by calling the toll-free
days contain 10 hours of sunlight.
been known to move along the Florida coast and even into but there are bag and size limits. Since 1993, recreational telephone number shown on the tag. Anglers reported
neighboring states. harvests have increased to over 2.6 million pounds of fish catching about 17 percent of the hatchery-reared fish
Red drum have an energetic and elaborate courtship Although they sometimes feed at the surface or in due to more anglers targeting this rapidly growing, easily released in the Indian River during the late 1990’s,
ritual observed in captivity. Beginning in late afternoon, midwater, red drum are primarily bottom feeders. These accessible nearshore fish. The growing emphasis on catch- whereas anglers reported only 0.42 percent of the larger
males chase females in tanks for hours while drumming fish are often seen in shallows, browsing head-down with and-release fishing may lower future recreational landings, red drum released in Biscayne Bay.
loudly and bumping them. Often, several males pursue one their tails out of the water, a behavior called tailing. Their but the red drum population is currently meeting A supplemental monitoring program samples fish
female. The males’ colors intensify dramatically during fondness for tasty crabs and shrimp probably contributes management goals and the once-depleted adult stock populations to find hatchery-reared juveniles too small for
courtship: their stomach and undersides turn stark white, to their own delicate flavor and tender white meat. Red continues to rebuild. This Florida fishery is considered a anglers to catch. This program also provides information
and their flanks and backs turn bronze. Just after sunset drum locate food by sight, touch and smell while feeding success and a positive outcome of fisheries management. about which habitat types are more likely to be vital to the
they shudder, and the female releases her eggs. The male along the bottom. Since 1988, scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife survival of these young fish.

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Fishing license revenue and the obtaining suitable land and funding for marine facilities to
federal Sport Fish Restoration Program restore fish and habitat. Fish culture is planned for indoor
are important sources of funding for recirculating tanks with total environmental control. Such
sport fish research. The program is a intensive-culture facilities require less land and seawater
user-pay, user-benefit system funded and have a minimal impact on the environment. The
by a tax on sales of recreational fishing FMFEI plans include facilities that will produce marine
equipment and motor boat fuel. The program supplies species for stock enhancement, aquatic plants for habitat
three dollars for every one dollar provided by the state for restoration and provide opportunities to educate Floridians
projects that improve fishing and boating opportunities. about marine conservation.

Project Tampa Bay Research Efforts

This major stock enhancement research project began in As part of ongoing research on red drum, scientists are
1999 to determine the most cost-effective size of hatchery- conducting surveys about their movements and spawning
reared red drum as well as when and where to release behaviors. In order to learn more about these fish,
them to optimize survival. Beginning March 2000, over 4 researchers take length measurements, DNA samples and
million red drum of three sizes were released into the ovarian biopsies from thousands of nearshore adult red
Alafia and Little Manatee rivers. FWC scientists monitored drum, releasing all sampled fish alive. They use the DNA
them from the river nursery habitat through their growth, samples to estimate the population size and determine if
survival and movements within and beyond Tampa Bay. SERF hatchery fish are found. They also assess various
The largest hatchery-reared red drum were recaptured elements of reproduction with ovarian biopsies. Scientists
about six times more often than the smallest hatchery- implanted 80 adult fish with acoustic tags, which emit
reared fish. Those released in fall survived much better sound to track their movement between Tampa Bay and
than those released in spring and summer. Anglers Charlotte Harbor. Also, researchers conduct weekly aerial
returned nickel-size fin clips so their catch could be transect surveys during the fall spawning season to
genetically identified as wild or hatchery origin. Project identify the number of spawning aggregations between
Tampa Bay has ended, and the results will guide future red Redington Beach and Captiva Island. To determine when
drum releases in Florida. juvenile red drum swim out of the estuary and into
offshore aggregations, researchers implanted 20 juveniles
with acoustic tags in Tampa Bay and 20 in Charlotte
Florida Marine Fisheries Enhancement Initiative Harbor estuaries.
In 2006, FWC received state funding to develop the Florida According to the research team, the data collected
Marine Fisheries Enhancement Initiative (www.FMFEI. from the acoustic tags shows adult red drum move between
org). The FWC and its public and private partners are the offshore areas of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.

April 2015

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
100 8th Avenue SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • (727) 896-8626 •