Vermillion Snapper, Rhomboplites aurorubens
The Vermillion Snapper, Rhomboplites aurorubens, whose common Spanish name is Besugo, is a member of the Snapper or Lutianidae Family, known collectively as “pargos” in Mexico.
The Vermillion Snapper has a streamlined body that is a vivid red color that fades to pink and then to whitish ventrally. Above the lateral line they have a series of short, irregular diagonal blue lines on the sides formed by spots on the scales and sometimes they have yellow streaks below the lateral line. All of the fins are red with the anal fin being rounded and whitish, the caudal fin has a black edge, the dorsal fin has a yellow edge and the pectoral fins are short. They have small heads and small mouths with short snouts and a projecting lower jaw; the orientation of the mouth and eye give the appearance that they are looking upward. They lack large canine teeth and a dark lateral spot.
The Vermillion Snapper is found in large schools throughout the Gulf of Mexico close to the continental shelve suspended over underwater structures such as reefs, shipwrecks and oil-rigs, and over sand and gravel bottoms at depths between 600 and 1,000 feet. Juveniles are known to enter bays. They are non-migratory and often swim in large schools that include Atlantic Red Snappers. They reach a maximum length of 60 cm (24 inches) and up to 2.7 kg (6 pounds) in weight; however, 30 cm (12 inch) fish weighing less than a pound are the normal caught. The current world record is 7 pounds 3 ounces. They feed predominantly on fish, shrimp, crabs, polychaete worms, other bottom-dwelling invertebrates, as well as cephalopods, and plankton. The females are significantly larger than the males. They reproduce by pelagic eggs released to the ocean between April and September. They are slow growing reaching 12 to 18 inches in length in 10 years and have life spans of up to 20 years.
The Vermillion Snapper can be confused with the Atlantic Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus (smaller, lacking the series of short, irregular, diagonal blue lines on the scales above the lateral line; triangular anal fin). They are an Atlantic Ocean only species and found throughout the Gulf of Mexico being more abundant in the northern portions of the Gulf.
The Vermillion Snapper is a quality food but less popular than Red Snapper. Along the United States Gulf Coast they are targeted by recreational fishermen including Party Boats. They are a very poor game fish due to their small size and the heavy tackle required to access the depth they reside. In the United States they are caught by commercial fishermen at the level of 3 million pounds (generating $2 to $4 million) per year. Interestingly, commercial fishermen send large amounts of bait to the bottom at significant depths and then slowly bring the bait back toward the surface which provides them access to this species.