The historic distribution of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) on the Atlantic coast is from Massachusetts through Florida, though few fish have been reported north of the Chesapeake Bay in recent years. Juveniles are most abundant in estuarine waters and inlets, while fish older than age four inhabit deeper waters. The adult fish migrate seasonally, moving offshore or south in the winter and inshore or north in the spring. Spawning occurs at night in the nearshore waters during the summer and fall. Prolific spawners, large females may produce up to two million eggs in a season. Eggs hatch within 24 to 36 hours of being spawned, and the larvae are carried by wind and tidal action into shallow, low salinity estuarine nursery areas. Juveniles and sub-adults stay in estuarine areas feeding on zooplankton and invertebrates such as small crabs and shrimp. Gradually, red drum expand their diet to include fish and larger invertebrates. Depending on the area, males mature between age one and four (20-28 inches in length), while females mature between age three and six (31-36 inches in length). Red drum may reach 60 years of age and 60 inches in length (corresponding to greater than 90 pounds in weight).
Red drum are one of the most recreationally sought-after fish throughout the South Atlantic. It is a nearshore fishery, targeting small, “puppy drum” in shallow estuarine waters and large trophy fish along the Mid- and South Atlantic barrier islands. Recreational harvest initially peaked in 1984 at 2.6 million pounds and harvest has fluctuated without trend since 1988 between 800,000-2.1 million pounds. The 2014 recreational landings of 2.34 million pounds was well above the ten year average of 1.7 million pounds. Florida anglers landed the largest share of recreational harvest in numbers (43%) followed by North Carolina (18%).
The commercial fishery is largely dominated by North Carolina, which was responsible for 88% of commercial harvest in 2014. Commercial landings have declined since the 1980s. In 2014, coastwide commercial landings were roughly 103,000 pounds, a nearly 300,000 pound decrease from 2013.
Red drum captured as part of the SEAMAP-South Atlantic Longline Survey, with the goal of providing a fishery-independent index of adult red drum abundance. Photo credit: Bryan Frazier, SC DNR.
The 2009 Benchmark Stock Assessment found the red drum stock to be in good condition, with overfishing not occurring in either the northern or southern regions. Given uncertainty in the abundance of adult fish, an overfished status could not be determined. This deficiency promoted the need to transition to a new modeling framework.
For the past two years, the Red Drum Stock Assessment Subcommittee (SAS) has been working on a benchmark stock assessment which uses a model that can determine overfished and overfishing status. Given difficulties in transitioning the new modeling framework, the Southeast Data Assessment Review workshop in August 2015 took on a collaborative approach where panelists reviewed the assessment work to date and provided constructive feedback on modifications to the models. The SAS continued work on the stock assessment following the Review Workshop and was able to make significant improvements Updated work by the SAS was desk reviewed in April 2016 by a subset of the peer review panel and presented to the Board in May 2016. During its review of the assessment, the Board requested additional analysis to ensure the results of the new model are accurate.These analyses include an evaluation of tag return rate sin the fishery and continuity models, both of which will be presented to the Board in October 2016.
Red drum are managed solely by the Commission through Amendment 2 to the Interstate FMP. The Amendment requires states to implement recreational creel and size limits to achieve the fishing mortality target, including a maximum size limit of 27 inches, and maintain existing commercial regulations. A harvest moratorium and Presidential Executive Order, enacted in 2007, prevents any harvest or sale of red drum from federal waters.
Addendum I, approved in 2013, seeks to increase our knowledge base and aid in the protection of important red drum habitat. It updates Amendment 2’s habitat section to include current information on red drum spawning habitat and habitat by life stage (egg, larval, juvenile, sub-adult, and adult). It also identifies and describes the distribution of key habitats and habitats of concern, including threats, habitat bottlenecks (habitat or habitat characteristics that limit the sustainability or recovery of red drum), and ecosystem considerations.