Increase in snapper population leads to more hybrid catches

This is one of the recent hydrid snapper catches from Hubbard’s Marina.
This is one of the recent hydrid snapper catches from Hubbard’s Marina. Photo provided

Dylan Hubbard has seen more fish come across his dock in his life than most sportsmen would ever dream of. He’s the vice president of Hubbard’s Marina and fourth generation owner/operator.

The Hubbard name has been synonymous with sport fishing on the west coast of Florida since 1928 out of John’s Pass. There’s not much that would surprise Hubbard these days. From record-breaking big fish to boats full of limits, he’s been around the sport since the day he was born.

So when he sees something extremely unique, it’s got to be special.

“There’s so many snapper in the Gulf,” Hubbard said. “Lanes, red, yellowtail, mangrove; they mix and live together all around the Gulf. They all tend to have spawn times throughout the summer where males sperm and females eggs mix.

“Occasionally when they do it at different times, there’s a one in a million shot that they’ll mix together. For a microscopic baby fish to grow into an adult is against the odds as well. But there are millions out there, so there are quite a few one in a millions.”

Snapper have the unique ability to crossbreed, but as Hubbard described, it’s rare. But over the past year he’s seen multiple hybrids, or mixed species, come to port at Hubbard’s Marina, with a unique fish coming last week.

“There’s been about four caught by us in the past year,” Hubbard said. “The first was a lane and yellowtail, then a red and yellowtail, then a lane and red, and most recently another yellowtail and red snapper hybrid. A hybrid can live fine, but won’t be able to spawn themselves.

“The recent one was caught on a 39-hour trip offshore in about 200 feet of water. When we brought it back to the dock the angler donated it for research, so the FWC took it to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute where they were able to test it.”

Why so many in recent years? Hubbard feels that snapper populations, especially red snapper, have been booming.

“In the 70’s and 80’s red snapper were fished down,” Hubbard said. “The strict management measures have worked to bring back the population, but now there are more of them and their population is exploding.

“Off Texas there were always a ton of red snapper, and it’s expanded around the northern Gulf and now south to Fort Myers. People are even catching them off the keys, which is something we never heard of growing up. With more snapper there are more of them intertwining.”

For the foreseeable future, Hubbard sees his boats continuing to target snapper, specifically mangroves with their population also booming in local waters. That should continue into the summer when they gather for their yearly spawn, perhaps producing even more interesting combinations for the future. Hybrid snapper don’t have a regulation, but FWC biologists ask to be contacted for research if you catch one.