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October 26, 2001

Snapper Tags

Here are some snapper facts regarding age, tagging, and gender.

Q: I'm concerned about how many snappers are caught here in the Gulf of Mexico and how few are released. How long do snappers live? Does anyone tag snappers? Do snapper change sexes like grouper do? - John Mason, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

A: Unlike groupers, which change from female to male during their lifetimes, snappers are born with one sex and stick with it. Red snapper, the most popular snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, can live 30 years or more. A 20-inch red snapper is estimated to be about 20 years old. The biggest threat to red snapper in your area is the shrimp industry, which kills as bycatch hundreds of thousands of small snappers each year before they can mature and spawn.
Snappers have been tagged intermittently since the 1960s. Once they establish a territory they tend to stay in one area, except for spawning, which is thought to peak during August in the Gulf. Tagging snappers tells scientists more about age and growth than migration. One tagged snapper grew from 12 inches to 30 inches in 5.8 years.