Black Drum

Black Drum, Pogonias cromis

The Black Drum, Pogonias cromis, whose common Spanish name is tambor negro, is a member of the Croaker or Sciaenidae Family, known collectively as berrugatas or corvinas in Mexico. There is only one global member of the genus Pogonias, this species, which is found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic.

The Black Drums have oblong moderately deep compressed bodies with an elevated back and a nearly straight ventral profile. Adults are a uniform silvery color with bronze to black tinges. All their fins are dusky to black. Younger fish have four or five bars on their sides. Fish from bays and lagoons are normally darker than those taken from oceanic waters. Their head is short and blunt. Their mouth is under the snout and nearly horizontal and is equipped with simple teeth found in rows. Their chin has 3 pairs of barbels and their lower jaw has a row of 8 to 22 barbels. Their anal fin is small and has two spines, the second being long and approximately three-fourths the length of the first anal ray, and 5 to 7 rays. Their caudal fin is straight to slightly concave. Their dorsal fin is deeply notched with eleven slender spines, the third being the longest, and 19 to 22 rays. Their pectoral fins are short and do not reach the anus. They have 16 to 21 short and stout gill rakers. Their lateral line extends into the caudal fin and their body is covered with large scales.

The Black Drums are found over sandy and muddy bottoms in shallow coastal waters and in the surf zone in and around large river mouths at depths up to 160 feet; juveniles can be found in estuaries. They are the largest member of the Drum family and reach a maximum length of 1.70 meters (5 feet 7 inches) and 51.3 kg (113 pounds) in weight (the current IGFA record caught in 2001). Males and females are of equal size. They are non-migratory, however, larger fish are found in deeper waters. They are bottom scent-based feeders consuming small fish, crabs, mollusks, polychaetes, and squid. Their chin barbels are used to locate food and their strong pharyngeal teeth are used to crush shells. They are preyed upon by a variety of larger fish including sharks. They are known to be a nuisance to commercial oyster farmers. Spawning occurs during the winter and spring months in bays, estuaries, and near shore waters. They spawn multiple times a year, with the average female releasing pelagic eggs every three days for an annual total of 32 million eggs. The eggs hatch within 24 hours and the larvae are transported to estuaries via oceanic currents where they habitat seagrasses. They prefer water temperatures between 12oC and 33oC. The eggs and larvae are prone to mass mortality when sudden sustained temperature drops occur. They are also subject to high predation by numerous different fish. They have a lifespan of up to sixty years.

The Black Drum are widespread along the western coasts of North America. In Mexican waters they are found in throughout the Gulf of Mexico with the exception that they are absent from of the west coast of the Yucatán.

Adult Black Drums cannot be confused with any other species primarily due to their extensivte sets of barbels, however juveniles can be confused with the Sand Drum, Umbrina coroides (13-15 gill rakers; yellowish anal and pelvic fins) and the Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus (teeth and no barbels).

The Black Drums are considered an important recreational species in several of the southern states of the United States. They are primarily caught on heavy gear with steel leaders utilizing either shrimp or blue crabs as bait. They are edible but not an esteemed food fish making them of limited interest to commercial fishermen. The larger fish are difficult to clean and have tough meat often infested with spaghetti worms. They have some protection in the southern United States with size and bag limits in place in most states. From a conservation perspective they are considered of Least Concern with abundant and stable populations, however, they have limited supporting documentation.

Black Drum, Pogonias cromis. Fish caught from coastal waters off  Cape May, New Jersey, May 2008. Length: 1.00 meters (3 feet 3 inches). Weight: 18 kg (39 pounds). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.