Mahogany Snapper

Mahogany Snapper, Lutjanus mahogany

The Mahogany Snapper, Lutjanus mahogany, whose common Spanish name is pargo ojón, is a member of the Snapper or Lutjanidae family, known collectively as pargos in Mexico. Globally, there are sixty-seven species in the genus Lutjanus, nineteen of which are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Mahogany Snappers have oblong compressed bodies. They are very colorful fish being gray to dark olive with a bronze tint on their upper back and transitioning to silvery ventrally; some fish have a red tinge throughout their entire body. They have a conspicuous oval black spot about the size of their eyes located on their upper back below the soft ray portion of the dorsal fin and dissected by the lateral line. Their fins are red to yellow with the caudal fin having a dusky margin. They have a yellow bar with a dark central portion above their eyes. Juveniles have dark oblique stripes from the snout through the eyes to the top corner of their gill cover and red margins on their dorsal and yellow pectoral fins. Their head has large eyes and a pointed snout with a projecting lower jaw. They have a large terminal mouth and canine teeth on both jaws with the canines on their top jaw being larger. They have one or more rows of pointed conical teeth on each jaw. They have a prominent spur on the lower edge of their gill cover with strong and sharp serrations. The anal fin is rounded with 3 spines and 8 rays; the caudal fin is slightly forked; the dorsal fin is continuous with 10 spines and 11 or 12 rays; and the pectoral fins are long. They have 7 or 8 gill rakers on their upper arch plus 15 to 17 gill rakers on their lower arch. They are covered with small scales.

The Mahogany Snappers reside in inshore and offshore waters in and around reefs and in sandy areas or seagrass at depths up to 330 feet. Juveniles are found in shallower waters than adults. They are one of the smaller Snappers and average 38 cm (15 inches) in length with a maximum length of 48 cm (19 inches) and 1.3 kg (2.6 pounds) in weight. They form large aggregations during the day and can also be found within schools of White Grunts. They are nighttime predators that consume small bottom fish and marine invertebrates including cephalopods, crabs, and shrimp. In turn they are preyed upon by various sharks and other large predatory fish, including other species of Snappers. Reproduction occurs during the summer months with the release of pelagic eggs that are fertilized externally and hatch within 24 hours. They eventually settle out in suitable habitat that protects them from predation.

In Mexican waters the Mahogany Snappers are found in all waters of the Atlantic, however, they are not as plentiful in the northwest section of the Gulf of Mexico.

Mahogany Snapper is most likely confused with the Lane Snapper, Lutjanus synagris (dark spot below soft dorsal fin and above lateral line).

The Mahogany Snappers are considered good small game fish and are also utilized for food. They are caught with gill nets, spears, traps, and by hook and line. They are fished both commercially and recreationally and are regulated in the United States with size, bag, and annual catch limits. Their fillets are marketed fresh, however, there are reports that they contain Cigua Toxin. From a conservation perspective they are plentiful with a wide distribution and therefore are currently of Least Concern. Shrimp trawlers account for a large portion of their mortality due to habitat destruction and discarding of juveniles.

Mahogany Snapper, Lutjanus mahogany. Fish caught off the Grand Mayan Pier, Riviera Maya, Cancun, March 2012. Length: 20 cm (7.9 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.