Black drum are large, long-lived members of the drum family (Sciaenidae), reaching over 1 meter (3.3 ft) in length and weighing over 50 kg (110 lbs). They are one of only four members of this family that possess chin barbels set in pairs. Along the South Carolina coast, only the Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, shares this characteristic. Black drum, as their name suggests, are dark in color with a silvery luster. Their body shape is characteristic in that their back is distinctly elevated. When young, they possess four to five dark vertical bars that fade and eventually disappear as the animal grows.
Habitat and Biology
Black drum are members of the family Sciaenidae, and they spawn during the spring (late March through April) in high salinity waters near inlets. Eggs and larvae are planktonic, and eventually the larvae gain access to the shallow dendritic creeks of the tidal marsh habitat. Juveniles remain in these creeks for four to six months, after which they are found on the shallow tidal mud flats, often co-occurring with red drum and southern flounder. Black drum feed on invertebrates such as small clams and crustaceans, which are easily crushed by the strong molar-shaped pharyngeal teeth. These prey items are commonly found in association with oyster bars, and catches of small black drum (150-500 mm) occur primarily in these shallow-water habitats.
Black drum have a long life span, with the oldest fish being 30+ years of age. They have a fast growth rate for the first three years, after which the rate slows considerably. Sexual maturity appears to be attained at age 3 to 5. At the present time, there are numerous gaps in the life history of this species.
Historically, black drum were harvested commercially in South Carolina. Trotlines were set in the spring and baited with crabs to catch the large fish entering the estuaries. Currently, no commercial landings are reported from South Carolina, and the National Marine Fisheries Service offers no data on commercial landings for any state in the South Atlantic. Black drum are caught recreationally in South Carolina with hook and line in deep holes near the mouth of estuaries. There are no size restrictions or bag limits governing the recreational harvest of this species.
McErlean, A.J., S.G. O'Connor, J.A. Milhursky, and C.I. Gibson. 1973. Abundance, diversity and seasonal patterns of estuarine fish populations. Estuarine Coastal Marine Science 1:19-36.
Murdy, E.O., R.S. Birdsong, and J.A. Musick. 1997. Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
Roumillat, W. 1998. Personal communication. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division, Charleston, S.C.
Wenner, C. 1998. Personal communication. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division, Charleston, S.C.