Silk Snapper

Silk Snapper, Lutjanus vivanus

The Silk Snapper, Lutjanus vivanus, whose common Spanish name is huachinango ojo amarillo, 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 Silk Snappers have oblong compressed bodies. They are red to pinkish-red overall and lighter ventrally. Some fish have fine undulating yellow lines on their sides. A key to identification is the iris of their eyes, which is bright yellow. Their fins are reddish with the anal and dorsal fins having yellow tinges. Their caudal fin has a dark margin and their pale yellow pectoral fins reach the anus. Juveniles have a black or dark red spots on their upper sides just below the front edge of their dorsal fin. They have a large mouth equipped with one or more rows of pointed conical teeth on both jaws. Their canines are much larger on the upper jaw. They have an anchor-shaped patch of teeth, with a rear extension, on the roof of their mouth and one pair of tooth patches on the sides of the roof of their mouth. They have serrated gill covers. Their anal fins have pointed tips, 3 spines, and 7 or 8 rays; their caudal fin is lunate; their dorsal fin is continuous with 10 or 11 spines and 13 or 14 rays. They have 16 or 17 lower gill rakers. Their body is covered with rough scales and the scale rows on their back is oblique above the lateral line.

The Silk Snappers are a relatively deep water species found along the edge of the continental and island shelves over sand, gravel, and coral bottoms at depths between 130 and 1,300 feet. Juveniles are found in shallower waters than adults. They reach a maximum 83 cm (33 inches) in length and 8.3 kg (18 pounds) in weight. They primarily consume fish but also complement their diets with crabs, isopods, octopus, and shrimp. They have a lifespan of up to thirty-three years.

In Mexican waters the Silk Snappers are found in all waters of the Atlantic.

The Silk Snapper is similar to, and can be confused with, the Atlantic Red Snapper, Lutjanus camperchanus (red iris; uniform red color without yellow tinges).

The Silk Snappers are a focus of commercial fishermen utilizing hook and line or traps. Historically they were one of the most important species of the Caribbean and today still constitute as much as 10% of the catch in some locations. They are also fished by recreational fishermen but their habitat depth curtails this interest. They are covered by a series of restrictions throughout most of their range including permits, gear restrictions, area closures, seasonal closures, size limits, bag limits, fishing depth limits, and reporting requirements. Unfortunately these limits are not well enforced, leading to poorly monitored catch rates and inadequate scientific stock status monitoring. They mature quickly but have extremely low fecundity, reside in a small range, and are subject to intense fishing pressure, thus their population is believed to be declining and the size of the landed fish has decreased over the last decade. They are marketed fresh and have occasionally been implicated with Cigua Toxin poisoning.

Silk Snapper, Lutjanus vivanus. Fish caught out from coastal waters off Islamorada, Florida, April 2012. Length: 58 cm (23 inches). Weight: 9.1 kg (20 pounds). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Silk Snapper, Lutjanus vivanus. Fish caught out from waters on Pulley Ridge, Florida, August 2014. Length: 64 cm (25 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.