We studied genetic drift of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotype frequencies in a natural population of red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) from the northern Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). The amount of genetic drift observed across temporally adjacent year classes (1986–89) was used to estimate variance effective (female) population size (Nef). Nef was estimated to be 14 308 and the ratio of female effective size to adult female census size was approximately 0.004, which is among the lowest value reported for vertebrate animals. Low effective size relative to census size among red drum in the northern Gulf may result from yearly fluctuations in the number of breeding females, high variance in female reproductive success, or both. Despite low genetic effective size relative to census size, the genetic effective population size of red drum in the northern Gulf appears sufficiently large to preclude potentially deleterious effects of inbreeding.