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 the family Lutjanidae, the Snappers, known as pargos in Mexico. Globally, there are sixty seven species in the genus Lutjanus of which nineteen are found in Mexican waters, ten in the Atlantic and nine in the Pacific.

The Pacific Red Snappers have oval bodies with a uniform reddish-pink silvery sheen. They have a large protractile mouth. Their anal fin is pointed and has three spines and eight rays; their caudal fin is concave; and their dorsal fin is continuous and rounded at its terminal end with ten spines. They have oblique scale rows above their lateral line. Juveniles have a dark spot under the rear of their dorsal fin.

The Pacific Red Snappers are found over rocky bottoms and close to caves and crevices at depths up to 300 feet. This depth limit was established by a series of fairly large fish (76 cm; 30 inches) that I caught in November 2013 over sandy bottoms in the San José River basin. They reach a maximum length of 99.2 cm (39 inches) and weight of 7.9 kg (17 pounds 7 oz), which is the current IGFA world record, with this 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 neither measured nor retained. They feed on crabs, mollusks, octopus, shrimp, and small fish. They are found from Magdalena Bay south along the west coast of Baja, in the southern 75% 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 Pacific Red Snapper is most likely confused with the Colorado Snapper, Lutjanus colorado (dark red coloration), the Spotted Rose Snapper, Lutjanus guttatus (rounded anal fin; yellow anal, pectoral, and pelvic fins; large dark spot under rear of dorsal fin), and the Whipper Snapper, Lutjanus jordani (rounded anal fin with nine rays; horizontal scale rows above lateral line).

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

Length versus Weight Chart: I have included a Pacific Red Snapper Weight From Length Conversion Table in this website to allow the accurate determination of a fish’s weight from its length and hopefully to promote its rapid and unharmed return to the ocean.

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 appears that at least in this specific fish there is strong evidence of cross-breeding 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 appears that at least in this specific fish there is strong evidence of cross-breeding 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.