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What Is Red Snapper?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The term “red snapper” is used to refer collectively to fish in the Lutjanus genus, although many people think specifically of L. campechanus, a prized food fish, when they hear “red snapper.” This fish has dense white flesh with a sweet, slightly nutty flavor which makes it very popular with human diners, and unfortunately this has led to overfishing issues in red snapper fisheries.

Like other snappers, the red snapper has a spiny dorsal fin, and needle-like teeth. These fish are also laterally compressed, which means that their bodies appear slightly squashed. They are tropical to subtropical fish, preferring the reef environment for the ample prey it provides. As the name suggests, these fish have reddish bodies which are classically darker on top, fading to a creamy color near the belly.

These fish are gregarious, generally living in large schools. This can be an advantage for fishermen, because they can net a big group of fish at once, but it also increases the risk of bycatch, such as snapper which are too small for sale, or unwanted fish species. This leads to waste in the fishery, further destabilizing the fish population.

Because of the demand for true red snapper, many unscrupulous companies sell white fish labeled as “red snapper” regardless of the species. This has led to increasing use of the term for any white-fleshed fish, leading some people to think of it as an inferior food fish. In fact, true red snapper has a very distinctive flavor and a wide variety of uses, and it can be quite costly.

Several studies on fish offered for sale in the United States have shown that a great deal of mislabeling occurs in fish markets. Usually this is not the responsibility of the proprietor; many fish markets buy fish already sectioned and filleted, making it hard to identify the original species. Consumers should try to purchase snapper with the skin on, if possible, since the distinctive red skin makes true identification much easier.

Due to overfishing concerns, purchasing red snapper at all may not be advisable. Other white fish such as mahi-mahi are a better choice, and they offer many of the traits which make snapper so desirable, like firm flesh which is suitable for grilling. Decreased demand for the fish may allow fisheries to recover, and it would promote honesty in labeling, as well.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On Jun 28, 2012

There are a number of traditional Chinese dishes that use red snapper in them. You are not likely to see them on the menu of your local take our place but if you go to a fancier restaurant, or, better yet, China, you will be treated to some of the most delicious red snapper preparations the world has ever known.

By summing — On Jun 27, 2012

I have had red snapper fillets before but I recently tried to prepare a whole red snapper. I am pleased to say that it turned out amazingly. I actually grilled it and the wood smoke gives an amazing flavor to the meat of the fish.

By whiteplane — On Jun 27, 2012

I have an amazing recipe for stuffed red snapper. The stuffing is made from crab meat, bread crumbs, butter and lots of herbs. Together with the fish it is amazing.

The only problem is that is a pretty expensive and labor intensive dish. I usually only make in on special occasions, maybe once or twice a year. But that is not a bad thing. It keeps me looking forward to it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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