The Yellowtail Snapper is common to tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Bermuda and south to southeastern Brazil. This fish is also abundant throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and all the waters in between. Areas of greater concentration include depths between 32 and 230 feet, near reefs and over sandy areas, in the Bahamas, Caribbean Sea, and Florida Keys.
This is a beautiful fish with distinctive, bright coloration. Shades of olive and blues on top and the upper sides are decorated with spans of yellow spots. These hues grow lighter on the lower sides and belly, illustrated by alternating, lateral pink and yellow stripes, including a prominent mid-lateral yellow bar that grows wider from the eyes as it reaches the base of a deeply forked tail fin that is illuminated yellowish-orange. No dark lateral spot, typical of other snappers, intrudes on this colorful blend. Yellowtail Snappers reach a maximum length of fewer than three feet and rarely grow heavier than five pounds. They are most commonly landed at weights between one and three pounds. The world record for Yellowtail Snapper is eight pounds, nine ounces.
Yellowtails are known to spawn year-round – though markedly less during winter – with activity peaking at different times in different locations, but mainly during the summer months. This usually takes place offshore and among significant groups. After birth, juveniles remain mostly inshore among grass beds and shallow reefs. Adults can be found near shore and offshore over sandy areas near humps, reefs, and drop-offs. They feed during the day and at night, usually along the bottom, but they can also be entirely opportunistic. While juveniles feed on plankton found around their seagrass beds, adults eat crabs, shrimp, squid, worms, and other small fish. Chief threats for the Yellowtail Snapper include sharks and other large predators such as barracuda, mackerel, grouper, even other snapper species.
These fish have excellent vision and will shy away from anything too dramatically colored, no matter how good it smells or dances. A favorite food source in the Bahamas, the Yellowtail is somewhat less prevalent in the United States. This is, however, a tasty fish when adequately prepared. Likewise, diving and snorkeling enthusiasts enjoy it, who find this fish to be pleasant company while exploring the reef and bottom structures. No less attractive is the Yellowtail Snapper when hooked and pulled from the water after a lively skirmish.