November 27 marks a full moon and a time when mangrove snapper typically make babies- lots and lots of them, broadcasting millions of eggs. Which is why they are considered the most abundant of all the snapper species and a target for recreational and game fishing. So, let’s learn
about this snapper that we don’t hear about as much as its cousin “Red.”
This lively fish starts its first couple years of life inland in seagrass beds and mangroves (hence the name), and then as an adult moves to deeper waters offshore, hanging around literally any type of structure: dock pilings, shipwrecks, rock piles, reefs of all sorts, debris and, primarily in the Gulf, near offshore drilling rigs. Because they can tolerate a wide range of salinity levels, they’ve been caught in fresh and salt water. Tagging studies have found that once adults establish a home, they typically remain there for long periods, as many as four years. As in the case of many fish, the environment can dictate the mangrove’s colors which range from dark gray and greenish brown on the front half to shades of orange and dark rust specs throughout the back half. Also known as gray snapper, the mangrove’s most distinctive identifying feature is a nearly half-inch bar that runs from the mouth across and over the eye, a line that is darker on juveniles.
Adult mangroves are nocturnal and, from June to August, spawn at night, when the tide is moving during the full moon. These snappers lay demersal eggs that take around 45 hours to hatch babies that live long lives, between 21 to 28 years!
This is one of the smaller and slender members of the snapper family, growing to about 18 inches. Unlike other snappers, they average around 12 pounds, and are normally caught around two pounds. But if you’re fishing for them, don’t judge them by their size; they are known to put up a fight. These fish like to stick together and form large schools which can make it either very easy or very hard to catch because of the large number of fish fighting over bait. Warmer weather, like this past blistering summer, encourages mangrove to the surface, making it easier to find them.
A diet of small fish, shrimp, crabs and other invertebrates, contributes to their subtle sweet undertones – no fishy taste here. Fishermen and chefs compare their fresh taste to Chilian sea bass and grouper. The flaky white meat cooks well in a skillet, on the grill, in the oven, made into sushi, ceviche or just about any way you can think to cook it. We offer the following recipe for starters.
Lemon Mangrove Snapper
Recipe by PetitCHEF
- 4 snapper fillets, 4 to 6 ounces each
- A stick of butter or enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the pan bottom
- Flour for dredging the fillets
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. (or so) of white wine or sherry
- 1 tbsp. of drained capers
- Begin by heating the butter or olive oil in a pan over medium heat.
- While the pan is heating, dredge the snapper fillets in flour, making sure to coat them evenly.
- Once the pan is hot, place the fillets in it and cook them for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown.
- After both sides are cooked, remove the fillets from the pan and place them on a plate.
- In the same pan, add the lemon juice, white wine or sherry, and capers, and stir the mixture together.
- Cook the mixture for about a minute, or until it thickens slightly.
- Pour the sauce over the snapper fillets, and serve immediately.
Enjoy your delicious Lemon Mangrove Snapper!