Gray Snapper

Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus

The Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus, also commonly known at the Mangrove Snapper, whose common Spanish name is pargo mulato, is a species in the Snapper or Lutjanidae Family, known collectively as pargos in Mexico. Globally, there are sixty-seven in the genus Lutjanus, nineteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Gray Snappers have oblong slender bodies. They vary in color but are generally gray to greenish-brown with red, gray or yellow tinges. Their fins are darker than the body and have white or yellow edges except for the pectoral fins which are transparent. Their scales have orange-brown spots in the center giving the impression that the body is striped. Males and females are indiscernible externally. Juveniles have a black bar that runs from the tip of their snout through their eyes to the upper part of their gill cover and a blue streak on their cheek. They have a straight head profile with a large terminal mouth and a pointed snout. They have very small needle-like teeth and a set of four canine teeth in the front of their upper jaw. Their anal fin is rounded with the second spine being longer than the third; their caudal fin is concave; their dorsal fin is continuous with 10 spines, the fourth being the longest; and their pectoral fins are short and do not reach the anus. They are covered with small scales.

The Gray Snappers reside in coastal as well as offshore waters from very shallow areas in estuaries around mangrove roots to depths of 585 feet around natural and artificial hard-bottom substrate including rocks, ledges, wrecks, and coral reefs. They are one of the smaller snappers reaching a maximum length of 90 cm (35 inches) and weight of 20 kg (44 pounds), but they rarely exceed 45 cm (18 inches) in length and almost always weigh less than 4.5 kg (10 pounds). They are non-migratory and form large aggregations of similar sized fish during daylight hours. They feed nocturnally traveling some distance from their home habitats and are opportunistic predators of small fish, shrimp, crabs, gastropods, and cephalopods. They are preyed upon by barracuda, moray eels, groupers, jacks, sharks, and other snappers. Juveniles are found in inshore areas which includes estuaries and fresh water streams. They reach sexual maturity at two years and are oviparous with individual fish spawning several times a year producing as many as six million eggs during a single spawning event. The eggs are small, pelagic, spherical, transparent, and buoyant, floating on the surface of the water before they hatch within twenty hours of fertilization. They are located in 13.4oC to 32.5oC waters and have a lifespan of up to twenty-four years.

They Gray Snappers are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in all Mexican waters of the Atlantic.

The Gray Snapper is most likely confused with the small Cubera Snapper, Lutjanus cyanopterus (large canine teeth) and the Mutton Snapper, Lutjanus analis (black spot on lateral line below rear of dorsal fin).

The commercial fishery for Gray Snappers is limited as the large majority are taken by recreational anglers given that they are a tremendously popular game and food fish. They are strong fighters and normally taken on live shrimp, cut squid, fresh fish strips or bucktail jigs. From a conservation perspective their populations are currently deemed stable. They are regulated at a modest level in the southeast United States. Shrimp trawlers account for a large portion of their mortality due to habitat destruction and discarding of juvenile fish. They have been successfully reared in aquaculture and can also be seen in commercial aquariums.

f130-gray-snapper-4Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus, juvenile. Fish caught off the Channel 5 Bridge (MM 71.4), Florida Keys, Florida, December 2014. Length: 25 cm (10 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.

Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus. Commercial fish courtesy of Soriana’s Mercado, San José del Cabo, Baja California Sur, January 2014. Length: 31 cm (12 inches). Sold as “pargo.” Fish identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.

f130-gray-snapper-2Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus. Fish caught from a brackish water canal within the City of Miami, Florida, December 2014. Length: 30 cm (12 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.

f130-gray-snapper-3Gray Snapper, Lutjanus griseus. Fish caught off the Channel 5 Bridge (MM 71.4), Florida Keys, Florida, December 2014. Length: 30 cm (12 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.