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).
Commercial harvests occur only from the northern stock with landings showing considerable fluctuation throughout the catch time series, and peaking in 1999 and 2013. Most of the commercial landings are caught using gill nets and beach seines, with North Carolina typically contributing over 90% of annual commercial landings.
The recreational fishery contributes the majority of total harvest for both stocks, in part because states in the southern portion of the fishery reserve red drum harvest strictly for recreational anglers. Recreational harvest of the northern stock has fluctuated throughout the time series from 1989-2013, with a large increase in harvest in 2013. North Carolina is responsible for the majority of harvest. Discards from the northern stock have also fluctuated throughout the time series, though not always in conjunction with recreational harvest. Based on previous studies, an 8% mortality rate is assumed for recreational discards in both stocks. Recreational harvest of the southern stock has shown a general increase throughout the time series with the majority of harvest occurring in Florida. Discards from the southern stock generally increased throughout the time series, following similar fluctuations as recreational harvest.
The 2017 Red Drum Stock Assessment and Peer Review Report indicate overfishing is not occurring for red drum in either the northern (North Carolina-New Jersey) or southern (South Carolina-Florida) stocks. The assessment was unable to determine an overfished/not overfished status because population abundance could not be reliably estimated due to limited data for the older fish (ages 4+) that are not typically harvested due to the current fishery measures (slot-limits). The Board accepted the stock assessment and peer review report for management use. No management action was taken at this time since overfishing is not occurring.
The assessment estimates annual static spawning potential ratios (sSPR) measured against previously established reference points for red drum. Overfishing is occurring if the three-year average sSPR is less than a threshold of 30%, with a management target of 40% sSPR. sSPR is a measure of spawning stock biomass survival rates when fished at the current years fishing mortality rate relative to the spawning stock biomass survival rates if no fishing mortality was occurring. In 2013 (the last year for which data were available), the three-year (2011-2013) average sSPR was 43.8% for the northern stock and 53.5% for the southern stock, both above the target and threshold values.
Recruitment (age-1) has fluctuated around averages of 476,579 and 1.57 million fish in the northern and southern stocks, respectively. In more recent years, the largest recruitment occurred in 2012 for the northern stock and 2010 for the southern stock.
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.