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What is a Redfish?

Bethney Foster
Bethney Foster

Redfish can refer to several types of fish, but is most often used to describe the red snapper and the red roughy. The red snapper is a reef-dwelling fish found in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the eastern United States to as far south as Brazil, and in the Gulf of Mexico. The red roughy is a deep-sea species found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The red snapper lives in waters as deep as 300 feet (100 m). A light red in color, the fish is darker on its back. Scientifically called Lantanas capechanus, the red snapper lives in schools along the ocean bottoms, inhabiting rocks, wrecks, and reefs.

Redfish feed on squid.
Redfish feed on squid.

The red snapper spawns in the summer in the Gulf of Mexico and from late summer to early autumn off the Florida coast. The red snapper can weigh as much as 35 pounds (16 kg), though less than 20 pounds (9 kg) is more common. The average length of the fish is about 24 inches (60 cm).

Also commonly called the sow snapper and chicken snapper, this particular type of redfish can have a lifespan of more than 40 years. The fish are carnivores, having needle-like teeth. They feed upon squid, octopus, and other small marine animals.

A game fish, the red snapper is also fished commercially. The United States has imposed some limits on the number of red snapper that can be caught. Populations of the red snapper are not considered to be threatened, however, as of 2011.

The second fish most commonly referred to as a redfish is the red roughy or orange roughy. This species is also commonly known a deep-sea perch and is scientifically named Hoplostethus atlanticus. A member of the Trachichthyidae family, these types of fish are known as slimeheads.

The red roughy can live to be nearly 150 years old. Slow to mature, the fish doesn’t breed until it is at least 20 years old. When mature, it weighs about 8 pounds (3.5 kg).

Red roughy has a white meat and is fished in the summer months, during its spawning season. This type of redfish is harvested using bottom-trawling gear, which raises concerns about bycatch, which refers to fish caught accidentally by fishing gear, and damage to ocean floors. The fish is listed as threatened, and most conservation organizations advise against eating it because of its population status.

Redfish may also be used to refer to some species of rockfish and to some species of alfonsinos. The term may be used to describe Centroberyx affinis, Sebastes mentella, and Oncorhynchus nerka. Other species of snappers are also sometimes called redfish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a redfish?

A redfish refers to several species of fish that are often found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The most common species known as redfish is the red drum, scientifically named Sciaenops ocellatus. They are characterized by their reddish-bronze body, a distinctive black spot near the tail, and can grow quite large, with some reaching over 40 inches in length.

Where can you typically find redfish?

Redfish are commonly found in inshore waters, particularly along the southeastern United States coast, from Massachusetts to Florida, and into the Gulf of Mexico. They thrive in estuaries, shallow waters, and are often found around oyster bars, grass beds, and mangroves. They can also be found offshore on occasion, especially the larger, mature individuals.

What do redfish eat?

Redfish are opportunistic feeders with a diet that includes crustaceans like shrimp and crabs, as well as small fish and mollusks. Juvenile redfish tend to feed on small prey such as zooplankton, and as they grow, their diet shifts to larger prey. Their predatory behavior is essential for maintaining the balance in their natural habitats.

Are redfish good to eat, and are they commercially fished?

Redfish are considered a delicacy and are highly prized for their firm, mild-flavored white flesh. They became so popular in the 1980s that they were nearly fished to extinction. Today, strict regulations have helped their populations recover, and they are both commercially and recreationally fished under these management measures to ensure sustainability.

How do redfish reproduce, and what is their lifespan?

Redfish reach sexual maturity around 3 to 5 years of age. They typically spawn from August to November in nearshore waters. Females release eggs that are fertilized externally by males. A single female can release up to two million eggs per spawn. Redfish can live up to 40 years, but the average lifespan is around 20 years.

What is the significance of the black spot on redfish?

The black spot found near the tail of redfish is thought to be a defensive mechanism against predators. The spot mimics an eye, which can confuse predators into attacking the tail end of the fish rather than the head, giving the redfish a better chance to escape. Some redfish may have multiple spots, although this is less common.

Discussion Comments


I'm from Alabama and what we call a "red fish " is actually a red drum.

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    • Redfish feed on squid.
      Redfish feed on squid.