Pacific Red Snapper

Pacific Red Snapper, Lutjanus peru

The Pacific Red Snapper, Lutjanus peru, whose common Spanish name is Huachinango del Pacifico and known locally as Huachinango, is a member of the Snapper or Lutianidae Family, known collectively as “pargos” in Mexico.

The Pacific Red Snapper has an oval body with an overall uniform reddish-pink-silvery sheen. They have a large mouth that is protractile (capable of being extended forward). The anal fin has three spines and eight rays and is pointed; the caudal fin is concave; and, the dorsal fin has ten spines, is continuous and rounded at its terminal end. They have oblique scale rows above the lateral line. Juveniles have a dark spot under the rear of the dorsal fin.

The Pacific Red Snapper is found over rocky bottoms, close to caves and crevices at depths up to 300 feet, with the depth limit established by a series of fairly large (76 cm, 30 inches) fish that I caught in November 2013 over sand bottom in the San José River basin. They reach a maximum length of 99.2 cm (39 inches) and 17 pounds, 7 oz (the current I.G.F.A. world record, with the fish being caught off the Uncle Sam Bank, Baja California Sur in 2001). I believe that a new world record is accessible in the waters adjacent to the greater Los Cabos area; I have seen a picture of such a fish but unfortunately it was not measured or retained. I have included a Pacific Red Snapper Weight From Length Conversion Table in this Website that allows the accurate determination of a fishes weight and a return to the ocean unharmed to live another day. They feed on crabs, mollusks, octopuses, shrimp, and small fish. The Pacific Red Snapper is found from Magdalena Bay south along the west coast of Baja, in the southern three-fourths of the Sea of Cortez and along the coast of the mainland south to Guatemala; they are also present around most of the oceanic islands.

The Red Snapper is most likely confused with the Colorado Snapper, Lutjanus colorado (dark red coloration), the Spotted Rose Snapper, Lutjanus guttatus (anal fin rounded, yellow anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins, large dark spot under the rear of the dorsal fin). and the Whipper Snapper, Lutjanus jordani (anal fin rounded with nine rays and horizontal scale rows above the lateral line).

The Red Snapper is highly prized as table fare and is an essential export product of Mexico commanding high prices. They are caught by commercial pangueros with their hand lines utilizing either cut squid or live Red Tuna Crabs as bait. In the greater Los Cabos area this species has been significantly over fished and it is now rare with fish sizes being significantly reduced. In the old days, a practice that has long since been abandoned, it was not uncommon to see the daily catch of Huachinango packed in ice leaving the dock in cargo vans en route to mainland Mexico for distribution. I believe currently that at least 50% of the Red Snapper sold in the United States is actually a different fish and most likely the Goldeneyed Tilefish, Caulolatilus affinis or the Greater Sand Perch, Diplectrum maximum, or god forbid, Tilapia. A true visual phenomenon is the very rare sight of zillions of Red Snappers feeding at the surface on the Pelagic Red Tuna Crab, Pleuroncodes planipes, far out at sea.

Pacific Red Snapper, Lutjanus peru: Fish caught out of 210-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, April 2012, on a live Red Tuna Crab using traditional bottom gear. Size: 25 cm (10 inches).
Pacific Red Snapper, Lutjanus peru: Fish caught out of 210-foot water off Point Palmilla, Baja California Sur, April 2012, on a live Red Tuna Crab using traditional bottom gear. Length: 25 cm (10 inches).
Pacific Red Snapper, Juvenile, Lutjanus peru. Size: 13 cm (5.1 inches).  Has very unusual markings including a rapid transition from red to white ventrally, a black tail margin, yellow stripes below the lateral line, a dark spot on the lateral line and transparent pelvic fins.  I know the species well and it seems to me that at least in this specific fish there is strong evidence there is some cross-breeding going on with the Spotted Rose Snapper, Lutjanus guttatus.
Pacific Red Snapper, Juvenile, Lutjanus peru. Length: 13 cm (5.1 inches). Has very unusual markings including a rapid transition from red to white ventrally, a black tail margin, yellow stripes below the lateral line, a dark spot on the lateral line and transparent pelvic fins. I know the species well and it seems to me that at least in this specific fish there is strong evidence there is some cross-breeding going on with the Spotted Rose Snapper, Lutjanus guttatus.
Pacific Red Snapper, Lutjanus peru. Fish caught out of 115 foot water on cut shrimp in coastal Mazatlán waters, April 2013. Length: 33 cm (13 inches), 4.2 pounds. Catch and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Identification reconfirmed by H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.  Note the most unusual coloration of this fish.
Pacific Red Snapper, Lutjanus peru. Fish caught out of 115 foot water on cut shrimp in coastal Mazatlán waters, April 2013. Length: 33 cm (13 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of George Brinkman, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Identification reconfirmed by H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA. Note the most unusual coloration of this fish.