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Drum, Red (Sciaenops ocellatus)
Also known as: Channel bass, Redfish, Reds, Spottail bass
Source: Wild-caught in Mississippi state waters

Red drum are found in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from southern New England to Key West, Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Tuxpan, Mexico. They live on a variety of bottom habitats, from soft mud and submerged vegetation to oyster reefs and other hard bottoms, in both shallow estuaries and offshore waters at least 50 feet deep. They often gather near structures such as artificial reefs and oil and gas platforms.

Red drum grow fast, up to five feet long and 100 pounds. However, they’re most common at about three feet. Red drum are able to reproduce by three to four years of age. In the Gulf, they spawn from mid-August through mid-October. Mature males gather near the mouths of passes and shorelines and attract females with their drumming sounds. Red drum are very productive—females spawn every two to seven days and produce 20 million to 40 million eggs per season. Red drum can live up to 50 years.

Red drum are aggressive opportunistic feeders, eating a variety of bottom-dwelling animals such as crabs, shrimp, marine worms, and small fish. You can often see red drum "tailing" in shallow water, feeding with their head down in the grass and tail exposed to the air. Large fish, turtles, and birds prey on red drum. Scientists think that the black spot near the red drum’s tail fools predators into attacking their tail instead of their head, allowing them to escape.

A member of the croaker family, red drum is a cousin of black drum, Atlantic croaker, and spotted seatrout. This family of fish can produce croaking or drumming sounds with their air bladders when they spawn, which is why they’re called croaker and drum.

Red drum are reddish-bronze or nearly silver in color and have a distinctive large black spot near the base of their tail fin. Sometimes they have multiple spots. They have no barbels (whiskers) on their chin, unlike other drums.

Historically, red drum supported important commercial and recreational fisheries along the northern Gulf coast. During the 1980s, directed commercial harvest of red drum increased substantially in response to growing market demand for blackened redfish. To supply this demand, many commercial fishermen began targeting schools of spawning adult red drum in offshore waters. Harvests peaked in 1986 at more than 14 million pounds and $9.3 million. Concerns over these expanding fisheries and their impact on the red drum resource prompted federal managers to develop a management plan for red drum, which was implemented the following year (1987). Scientists found that the key to sustaining the red drum resource would be to limit the harvest of adult red drum as well as limiting harvest of smaller drum from inshore waters. In response, managers initially prohibited commercial harvest of red drum in offshore federal waters and eventually recreational harvests as well to stop overfishing and protect the spawning population. Many Gulf states took similar steps to conserve this important resource, establishing red drum as a gamefish, thus prohibiting commercial harvest in state waters, and further regulating recreational fisheries through size and possession limits.

Today, red drum supports recreational fisheries throughout Gulf state waters as well as a limited inshore commercial fishery in Mississippi’s waters. Managers regulate these fisheries through various measures including size, possession, and catch limits. Partly due to the absence of an offshore fishery, highly regulated inshore fisheries, and increased catch-and-release by anglers, scientists estimate that the red drum population has rebounded and fishing rates are at appropriate levels. However, most red drum currently available in the market is farmed, primarily from Texas, or imported from Latin America.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

Commercial harvest and sale of red drum is prohibited in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida state waters and Gulf federal waters. As a result, Mississippi accounts for all commercial red drum landings in the Gulf. In 2013, Mississippi commercial fishermen landed more than 36,500 pounds of red drum with dockside revenue of more than $74,500.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics

Landings Summary Data :  

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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch

Individual Gulf states assess the status of the red drum resource in state waters using data from biological sampling and survey programs. Mississippi monitors commercial red drum harvests through a trip ticket program—docks purchasing red drum directly from commercial fishermen submit information pertaining to the catch, including who caught it, where and when it was caught, how much was caught, etc. Commercial fishermen who sell directly to consumers must also submit trip tickets. States collect data on recreational harvests through the federal Marine Recreational Information Program or state-run data collection programs (in Louisiana and Texas).

Federal scientists from NOAA Fisheries use abundance data from joint federal and state surveys, along with data from state-run surveys and catch data, to assess the status of the red drum stock throughout the Gulf. However, information on the adult red drum population in federal waters is lacking, which makes it difficult to determine the status of the population.

Current Abundance

Scientists last assessed the Gulf-wide red drum stock in 2000. Results from this assessment were highly uncertain, due to complexities in assessing this stock across the Gulf and imprecise or inaccurate data. Conflicting with previous assessments that found the Gulf-wide population to be rebounding, the 2000 assessment found that, as a whole, Gulf red drum was overfished and overfishing was occurring. Scientists are planning to reassess the Gulf-wide red drum stock again in 2016.

Individual Gulf states have more recently assessed red drum populations in their state waters. Their assessments indicate that red drum populations are rebuilding. Both Texas and Florida have stock enhancement programs for red drum—they rear red drum in a hatchery then release them into the wild to enhance the population. 

Additional Research

Texas, Louisiana, and Florida all run red drum tagging programs to study the migration and movements of the species.

Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

Individual Gulf state fisheries management agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the red drum resource in their respective state waters. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission helps coordinate monitoring and management among the states, gathering scientific data and organizing management measures to ensure they’re consistent through the species’ range.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries are responsible for red drum in adjacent federal waters of the Gulf.

Management Program

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council adopted a fishery management plan for red drum in 1987. The plan prohibited directed commercial harvest of red drum in federal waters of the Gulf and limited recreational fishing for red drum. Plan amendments later implemented additional measures, including prohibiting all harvest of red drum in Gulf federal waters. The plan’s goals are to cooperate with the states to control fishing and conserve the red drum stock, conduct research and gather data to monitor the stock and inform future management, maximize the economic and social benefits of the red drum resource, and conserve, restore, and enhance habitat.

Most Gulf states followed the Council’s lead and prohibited commercial harvest and limited recreational harvest in state waters. They manage recreational fisheries for red drum through size limits, possession limits, and gear restrictions, and Mississippi allows a limited commercial harvest under an annual quota. See the Mississippi tab for specific commercial fishery management measures.