Wednesday, September 3, 2014

All about that bass, no treble...hooks

Sciaenops ocellatus: Fried, Baked, or Blackened

If you saw this notation on a restaurant menu, would you order it? If you said, "yes," you know your redfish! Red Drum, commonly called, "redfish," "channel bass", or "spot tail," are popular restaurant faire, and no Cajun restaurant would open its doors without offering it to customers. This local fish is also a favorite of saltwater sports fishermen - so much so that states set annual catch limits to protect it from being overfished. Whether you like to catch it or eat it, you should thank your local estuary for its role in this fish's life cycle.

Red drum females mature at 4.5 years of age. The males do so around 3.5 years. Between August and December the drums leave their coastal habitat to gather at the mouths of inlets to spawn. The males use muscular contractions to vibrate their swim bladders, making a drumming sound. Apparently the females enjoy the noise; they can release up to 1.5 million eggs per batch. That's an enthusiastic response. Fertilized eggs are carried by the tides into an estuary (like the GTM Research Reserve estuary) to spend the next three or four years eating small crustaceans and marine worms. When mature, S. ocellatus heads out to join the other adults at the coastal "drumming session". Both sexes "drum" their swim bladders when agitated; that behavior has earned them the fisherman's name of drum.
The redfish you'll see listed on a restaurant menu are probably not wild caught. Red drums are typically grown as aquaculture. If you want to see one in the wild, but don't want to get a license and a fishing pole, sign up for a Family Seining activity as part of National Estuaries Day, Saturday, September 27, at the GTM Research Reserve. Maybe you'll find a juvenile in your net!

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