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Product Spotlight: Drum

A culinary fad decimated redfish stocks, leaving black drum and imports to fill the gap

There are actually many things a chef can do with drum
    fillets besides blackening. - Photo courtesy of Fla. Bureau of Seafood &
    Aquaculture Marketing
By Linda Skinner
September 01, 2006

Drum, specifically red drum, was made famous in the 1980s when New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme started the blackened-redfish fad. That Cajun craze resulted in overharvesting to the point of closing the Gulf of Mexico fishery. Though slowly recovering, red drum is still classified as "overfished."

National Marine Fisheries Service landings statistics pretty well sum up the domestic drum story. In 1984, commercial harvests of red drum, or redfish ( Sciaenops ocellatus ), were 4.8 million pounds. Then blackened redfish hit menus, and by 1986, fishermen had hauled in 14.5 million pounds. As diners scarfed down the spicy fillets, harvests plunged to 5.2 million pounds in 1987, then to 527,778 the next year. The total for 2004, the most recent data available, was just 73,427 pounds.

With red drum growing scarce, sourcing shifted to the more plentiful, lower-priced black drum ( Pogonias cromis ), found from Virginia to the northern Gulf of Mexico, though restrictions on commercial fishing have tightened supplies of this species as well. NMFS harvest data for black drum in the 1980s echo the redfish decline. Black drum landings rose from a typical 6.1 million pounds in 1980 to nearly 11 million in 1987-88, when the red drum fishery went bust. By 2004, harvests were back to a near-normal 5.8 million pounds.

North Carolina is the biggest domestic commercial producer of red drum, at 54,117 pounds in 2004. Louisiana tops black drum landings at 3.8 million pounds, followed by Texas at 1.7 million pounds. The majority of U.S. drum landings these days are by sport fishermen.

Most red drum on the U.S. market is imported from Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador and Central America. It is also farmed in Texas, Louisiana, Taiwan and Ecuador.

Sold fresh and frozen; gutted, head-on or off; and as fillets, skinless or skin-on, drum is seldom found beyond the Southeast, except as a Cajun-style menu feature. "French Quarter specialties" at Redfish Seafood Grill and Bar, a chain based in Scottsdale, Ariz., with restaurants in Chandler, Ariz., Chicago and Cincinnati, include the signature Blackened Redfish, served with vegetable and fries, rice or sweet potato fries for $15.49.

Closer to home, drum is featured at Ralph Brennan's Red Fish Grill in New Orleans, one of the first restaurants in the city to reopen after Hurrricane Katrina. Blackened Redfish "Seasar" features blackened, Louisiana farm-raised redfish, served with firecracker cornbread, for $13.95. There's also Hickory Grilled Redfish for $16 and a Blackened Louisiana Redfish Burger with fried eggplant sticks for $8.95.

Black drum is featured at upscale Ralph's on the Park, also in New Orleans. The Baked Baby Drum entrée with sauce Béarnaise, steamed basmati rice and asparagus spears sells for $19.25.


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