Although they sometimes eed at the surace or inmidwater, red drum are primarily bottom eeders.They are oten seen in shallows browsing head-downwith their tails out o the water—a behavior called“tailing.” Their ondness or tasty crabs and shrimpprobably contributes to their own delicate favor andtender white meat. Red drum locate ood by sight,touch, and vacuuming or biting the bottom.As red drum grow, their ood preerences change.Juveniles up to two years old select tiny crustaceanssuch as copepods and crabs, whereas older juvenilesavor crabs and sh. Red drum eed primarily in theearly morning and late aternoon and are voraciouseaters whose penchant or lunging at almost anynatural bait endears them to anglers.Mangroves and marsh grasses indirectly play acritical role in the diet o red drum in southwesternand southern Florida. Fish, crabs, and shrimp eed onmangrove leaves that all into the water and decay,and red drum east on the sh, crabs, and shrimp.Because estuaries are vital nursery grounds,deterioration o water quality or loss o suitablehabitat in these areas may limit the number o youngsh that become reproductive adults.
Throughout history, people have caught red drum orood and recreation o the Atlantic seaboard romVirginia to Georgia. In Florida, red drum were caughtmainly or sustenance until the growth otransportation networks and markets allowed sh tobe shipped long distances. A commercial shery orred drum began in the 1850s, but since the early1980s, the majority o Florida’s red drum catch hasbeen taken by recreational anglers. For example, therecreational harvest in 1985 totaled 2.3 millionpounds, whereas the commercial harvest accountedor less than hal a million pounds.In the 1970s, Florida’s red drum populationsbegan to decline. Red drum apparently disappearedrom Biscayne Bay—possibly because o decliningwater quality, loss o habitat, and diversion oreshwater fows. The surging popularity o spicy,blackened redsh in the early 1980s caused similardeclines along the U.S. Gul o Mexico coast.
Beginning in 1986, state and ederal governmentsbegan enacting regulations to protect red drum,reducing recreational catches and banning commercialharvests in Florida in 1989. Annual red drumlandings then declined rom 2.1 million in the mid-1980s to about 250,000 in 1993. Recreationalharvests are still allowed year-round, but there arebag and size limits. Since 1993, recreational harvestshave increased to about 600,000 sh in 2008 becausemore anglers have targeted this rapidly growing,easily accessible nearshore sh. The growingemphasis on catch-and-release shing may loweruture recreational landings. The red drum populationis currently meeting management goals becauseregulations were established when the shery wasdepleted. This Florida shery is considered a successand a positive outcome o sheries regulations.Since 1988, scientists with the Florida Fish andWildlie Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish andWildlie Research Institute have reared red drum inthe State hatchery at Port Manatee and released theminto the wild. Using 20- to 30-pound wild-caught reddrum as brood stock, scientists manipulate watertemperature and hours o daylight in order to stimulatethe sh to spawn on demand. The eggs, careullytended, hatch in about 24 hours. The larvae arereared to juveniles o various sizes and then releasedinto the wild, where their survival is evaluated.Scientists hope that this process can successullyrebuild native stocks. From 1988 through 2004, morethan 6 million juvenile red drum were released intoTampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Biscayne Bay, Indian River,and estuaries in Collier and Volusia counties.Three sizes o hatchery-reared juveniles havebeen released: 1 to 2 inches long, 3 to 4 inches long,and 6 inches or longer. The smallest juveniles are
Because Florida’s east- and west-coast red drum differ genetically, researchersrelease hatchery-reared juveniles only into their respective populations.