Vermillion Snapper

Vermillion Snapper, Rhomboplites aurorubens

The Vermillion Snapper, Rhomboplites aurorubens, whose common Spanish name is besugo, is a species in the Snapper or Lutjanidae Family, known collectively as pargos in Mexico. Globally, there is only one species in the genus Rhomboplites, this species which is found in Mexican waters of the Atlantic.

The Vermillion Snappers have streamlined bodies with a vivid red color that transitions to pink then to whitish ventrally. They have a series of short irregular diagonal blue lines on their sides above the lateral line formed by spots on their scales and sometimes have yellow streaks below their lateral line. Their anal fin is rounded and a pinkish red; their caudal fin is red with a black edge; their dorsal fin is red with a yellow edge; and their pectoral fins are red and short. They have a small head, a small mouth, a short snout, and a projecting lower jaw; the orientation of their mouth and eyes gives the appearance that they are looking upward. They lack large canine teeth and are one of the few red colored snappers that lack a dark lateral spot.

The Vermillion Snappers are found in large schools throughout the Gulf of Mexico close to the continental shelf suspended over underwater structures such as reefs, shipwrecks, and oil rigs, and over sand and gravel bottoms at depths between 600 and 1,000 feet. Juveniles are known to enter bays. They reach a maximum of 60 cm (24 inches) in length and 2.7 kg (6 pounds) in weight; however, fish measuring 30 cm (12 inch) and weighing less than 450 g (1 pound) are the normal catch. The current world record is 3.3 kg (7 pounds 3 ounces). They are non-migratory and often swim in large schools that include Atlantic Red Snappers. They feed predominantly on fish, shrimp, crabs, polychaete worms, other bottom-dwelling invertebrates, as well as cephalopods, and plankton. Females are significantly larger than males. They reproduce by releasing pelagic eggs to the ocean between April and September. They are slow-growing reaching twelve to eighteen inches in length in ten years and have a lifespan of up to twenty years.

In Mexican waters the Vermillion Snapper are found in all waters of the Atlantic. They are more abundant in the northern portions of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Vermillion Snapper can be confused with the Atlantic Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus (smaller; lacks short irregular diagonal blue lines on scales above lateral line; triangular anal fin).

The Vermillion Snappers are quality food but less popular than the Red Snappers. Along the United States Gulf Coast they are targeted by recreational fishermen including party boats. They are a very poor game fish due to their small size and the heavy tackle required to access the depths where they reside. In the United States they are caught by commercial fishermen at the level of three million pounds annually and generate two to four million dollars in revenue. Interestingly, commercial fishermen send large amounts of bait to the bottom at significant depths and then slowly bring the bait back toward the surface to gain access to this species. Although an Atlantic Ocean only species they can be found in the Asian Seafood Markets of Southern California on occasion.

Vermillion Snapper, Rhomboplites aurorubens. Fish caught from waters of the Florida Middle Grounds, March 2016. Length: 35 cm (14.5 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.