Snook


These three species of snook are all small, similar-looking fish with almost identical ranges and habits but are less prominent than their larger relative the common snook. As members of the Centropomidae family, which includes the Nile perch and the barramundi, they are excellent table fish, with delicate, white, flaky meat, and are good game-fish, despite their small size.

There are believed to be 12 species of snook, 6 of which occur in the western Atlantic and 6 in the eastern Pacific, although no single species occurs in both oceans. A good deal is known about these three smaller Atlantic-occurring species and about the common snook, but not about the others, especially those in the Pacific, which include such large-growing species as the Pacific black snook (C. nigrescens; commonly called black snook) and the Pacific white snook (C. viridis), as well as the smaller Pacific blackfin snook (C. medius).

Other Names

Fat Snook
Portuguese: robalo; Spanish: robalo chucumite.

Tarpon Snook
Spanish: constantino, robalito, rĂ³balos, robalos prieto.

Identification

Snook in general are distinctive in appearance, with a characteristic protruding lower jaw and a particularly prominent black lateral line running from the gill cover to the tail.

The fat snook has a deeper body than the other snook have, although it is not strongly compressed. Coloration varies, depending on the area the fish inhabits, but the fat snook is frequently yellow-brown or green-brown on the back and silvery on the sides, and the lateral line is weakly outlined in black.

The mouth reaches to or beyond the center of the eye, and it has the smallest scales of all the snook. There are 15 to 16 rays in the pectoral fin, 6 soft rays in the anal fin, and 10 to 13 gill rakers.

The swordspine snook is the smallest snook and is named for its very long second anal spine, which usually extends to or farther than the area below the base of the tail.

With a slightly concave profile, it is yellow-green or brown-green on the back and silvery on the belly, and it has a prominent lateral line outlined in black. It has the largest scales of all the snook, as well as 15 to 16 rays in the pectoral fin, 6 soft rays in the anal fin, and 13 to 16 gill rakers.

The tarpon snook is distinctive, having 7 anal fin rays, when all other snook have 6. It also has a distinguishing upturned or tarponlike snout and a compressed, flat-sided body. The prominent black lateral line extends through the tail.

The pelvic fin is orange-yellow with a blackish edge, and the tips of the pelvic fins reach past the anus. There are 14 rays in the pectoral fin, 7 soft rays in the anal fin, and 15 to 18 gill rakers.

Size/Age

The fat snook rarely reaches more than 20 inches in length, although it is said to attain a length of 2.5 feet. The swordspine and the tarpon snook are usually less than 1 pound in weight or 12 inches in length. The alltackle world records for the fat and the tarpon snook are, respectively, 9 pounds, 5 ounces and 3 pounds, 2 ounces. Snook have a life span of at least 7 years.

Food

These species feed on fish and crustaceans.

Distribution

In the western Atlantic, all three species are present and are most abundant in southern Florida, although swordspine and tarpon snook are rare on Florida's west coast. Fat and swordspine snook occur around the Greater and the Lesser Antilles, whereas fat snook also extend down the southeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the continental Caribbean coasts to Santos, Brazil.

Swordspine snook occur down the continental Caribbean coasts of Central and South America to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tarpon snook are found in the West Indies and from Mexico to Brazil. They are also reported on the Pacific coast from Mexico to Colombia.

Habitat/Behavior

Snook inhabit the coastal waters of estuaries and lagoons, moving between freshwater and saltwater seasonally but always remaining close to shore and to estuaries. Fat and swordspine snook prefer very low salinity water or freshwater, whereas the tarpon snook is most common in shaded lakes with brackish waters.

Fat snook occur more often in interior waters than do other snook (instead of estuarine waters), and all three species use mangrove shorelines as nursery grounds. Snook are usually sexually mature by their third year.
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