Category: Fish ID

There are many species of fish to found in our oceans.  Some of these fish are target species, with great eating qualities, but others are protected and must not be harmed.  As a responsible spearfisher it is critical that we can identify the specie of fish before ever deciding to pull the trigger in an attempt to capture a fish.
On the following pages you will find photos and information that will assist you in improving your fish identification and knowledge.  They are split into two categories:  Protected Species and Target Species.
Remember, if you are not sure what fish it is you are aiming at, DO NOT PULL THE TRIGGER.

Grey Nurse Shark

Common Name: Grey Nurse Shark
Scientific Name: Carcharias taurus
Maximum Size: 400cm
Range:  QLD, NSW, VIC, SA, WA.

The Grey Nurse Shark is probably the most commonly seen large shark in NSW. It can be found around headlands, particularly near large cave systems; islands and deepwater bommies. Usually the sharks aggregate in schools, ranging from a few to over a hundred individuals. Juveniles can be found in water as shallow as 1-2m and seem to avoid hanging around large adults.

This species is generally placid, although the use of burley and the vibrations put out by speared fish may result in having to deal with agitated and inquisitive sharks. Divers have been bitten under these circumstances, however the injuries were minor.

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Blue Groper

Common Name: Blue Groper
Scientific Name: Achoerodus viridis
Maximum Size: 120cm
NSW Record: 19.054kg (before it became a protected species)
Range: QLD, NSW, VIC

Note: Linefishers may take still take this species. See NSW Fisheries website for legal lengths and bag limits

The Blue Groper is a commonly seen species on NSW reefs and is easily distinguished by its size and swimming technique. The frantic waving of the pectoral fins is a swimming style common to the Wrasse family, to which this species belongs. The juveniles and females can range in colour from light brown to dark green, the dominant male takes on a bright to dark blue colouration. Should the male die, or be caught by linefishers, the next largest female will change into a male over a period of several days.

 

Queensland Groper

Common Name: Queensland Groper
Scientific Name: Epinephelus lanceolatus
Maximum Size: 300cm
NSW Record: 177.81kg (before it became a protected species)
Range: QLD, NSW, NT, WA

The Queensland Groper is the largest bony fish found in rocky and coral reef habitat. The distinct markings shown above can fade to a dusky grey in large fish, however the sheer size makes them difficult to confuse with other species. Although in the past the author has confused them with boulders and attempted to hide behind them while stalking other fish. 

Seahorses, Seadragons and Pipefish

Common Name: Seahorses, Seadragons and Pipefish
Scientific Name: Syngnathidae
Maximum Size: 40cm
Range:  QLD, NSW, VIC, TAS, SA, WA, NT.

Seahorses, Seadragons and Pipefish belong to the family Syngnathidae and are completely protected in NSW. It is illegal to harvest them for any purpose, including for aquariums, unless special permits are granted.

Seahorses can often be found in estuaries, clinging to sponges and seapens.

Pipefish are commonly found in estuaries, particularly in seagrass meadows.

The only species of Seadragon found in NSW is the Weedy Seadragon, which is found in deep kelp stands and seagrass meadows, especially in sheltered bays.

 

Eastern Blue Devilfish

Common Name: Eastern Blue Devilfish
Scientific Name: Paraplesiops bleekeri
Maximum Size: 40cm
NSW Record: 0.624kg (before it became a protected species)
Range: QLD, NSW.

The Eastern Blue Devilfish is a rarely sighted species, living deep within cave system, often in family groups of several adults and juvenile fish. It can be found in estuaries, as well as deep offshore waters. Its most often spotted at dawn or dusk, or on heavily overcast days, near the entrance to the cave. A uniquely coloured species, it is difficult to confuse with any targeted fish species. Care should be taken when spearing fish such as Black Drummer in caves, in case this species is also present.

Morwong, Red

Common Name: Red Morwong
Scientific Name: Cheilodactylus fuscus
Maximum Size: 65cm
Record: 
Range: QLD, NSW, Vic.

A common resident of rocky reefs in NSW, the Red Morwong is the species many beginner Spearfishers first cut their teeth on. Found in shallow fringing reef, right down to the sandline in 20-30m, this species has a relatively small home range occupied by a school ranging in size from small juveniles to large, dominant males. During the day the fish will generally sit amongst boulders and in crevices, and are easily speared once found.

The freshly hatched larvae are paper thin and can drift for weeks before settling on shallow reef and kelp areas. As they grow the males develop a set of “horns” on their forehead. The females either lack the horns, or have a much smaller set.

Red Morwong can live to be over 40 years old, and as they are extremely territorial, they can be locally over-fished. Data from NSW Fisheries suggest Spearfishers are the main group catching this species.

Morwong, Blue

Common Name: Blue Morwong, Rubberlip Morwong
Scientific Name: Nemadactylus douglasii
Maximum Size: 80cm
NSW Record: 5.050kg
Range: QLD, NSW, Vic, TAS.

A generally deeper dwelling species than its cousins, the Red and Banded Morwongs, the Blue Morwong is more often taken by more experienced divers. By far the most common habitat for this fish is the “sand line”. This region is where the rocky reef meets the sand of the deeper areas along the southern coast line. This species can also be found in shallower areas, especially after storms have stirred up the shallower (4-5m) reefs. Any spot that has Snapper, Bastard Trumpeter, Tarwhine or King Wrasse will also be a likely spot for Blue Morwong.

Blue Morwong occur singularly, in pairs and in small schools. Underwater they appear greyish in colour and often blend into the haze at the edge of visibility. The pectoral fins are a darker blue than the body and quite elongated. The Jackass Morwong (Nemadactylus macropterus) occurs in similar habitat, but is more commonly found in Victoria and Tasmania. The Jackass differs from the Blue Morwong by having a dark stripe across its nape (neck) and generally smaller size.

Little is known about the breeding habits of the Blue Morwong, but they are not mature at the minimum legal length of 30cm. The maximum age of this species is estimated to be over 20 years.

Like most Morwongs, the Blue is very inquisitive. The favoured technique is to swim to the bottom, near a likely looking ledge or drop-off and wait. Banging rocks together, throwing up sand and banging the gun handle onto the floor all work well. If spooked, the fish will flee very quickly but often return later for another look. Larger schools form in deep water where they are targeted by commercial fishers. NSW Fisheries estimate that the recreational catch of this species is about three times that of the commercial sector.

Bream

Common Name: Yellowfin Bream
Scientific Name: Acanthopagrus australis
Maximum Size: 65cm
NSW Record: 3.657kg
Range: QLD, NSW, VIC.

Yellowfin Bream are common in estuaries and in shallow coastal waters. Oyster reefs and cungee covered reefs are especially good areas to hunt this species.

This species is best distinguished by its yellow fins, dark margin on the tail and silvery-gold colour. Confusing species are Snapper and Tarwhine, the former either being much larger than a bream or having small blue spots; the latter has distinct gold stripes and a blunter head.

The fish mature at around 22cm in length and 5 years of age. The adults migrate great distances and spawning occurs in coastal waters, the young fish return to live among mangroves and in seagrass meadows.

To approach this species the best method is lying on the bottom and waiting for the fish to become curious and cruise in for a closer look. Commercial catches of this species range from 200-600 tonnes per annum. The annual recreational catch is estimated at 800-1000 tonnes.


Tarwhine

Common Name: Tarwhine
Scientific Name: Rhabdosargus sarba
Maximum Size: 45cm
NSW Record: 1.980kg
Range: QLD, NSW, WA.

Tarwhine are common in estuaries and on shallow rocky reefs. They can form large schools of smaller fish; the largest individuals are often solitary.

This species is best distinguished by the bright golden stripes and gold coloured pectoral fins. It can be confused with the Yellowfin Bream which lacks the stripes and has a pointier head.

The fish mature at between 16-21cm and 2 years old. Spawning takes place in coastal waters during winter and the young fish return to estuaries.

To approach this species the best method is lying on the bottom and waiting for the fish to become curious and cruise in for a closer look. Commercial catches of this species range from 20-80 tonnes per annum. The annual recreational catch is estimated at 130-200 tonnes.

Yellowtail Kingfish

Common Name: Yellowtail Kingfish
Scientific Name: Seriola lalandi
Maximum Size: 250cm
NSW Record: 43.00kg
Range: QLD, NSW, VIC, TAS, SA, WA.

The famous “Kingy”! A much sought after species, the fighting qualities and sheer size of large Yellowtail Kingfish make them a prized catch for just about any spearfisher. Found around headlands, islands and occasionally in estuaries, any spot holding large amounts of baitfish near deepwater is a likely spot to see a Yellowtail Kingfish.

This species has “counter-shaded” body, with a greenish-silver dorsal surface, a dark stripe along the lateral line from head to tail, and a white belly. The yellow coloured tail stands out quite strongly underwater, and a good indication of large size is a relatively small tail. This species is confused with the Amberjack (Seriola dumerili) and the Samson fish (Seriola hippos) which have a similar body shape, but lack the yellow tail and have a dark stripe running diagonally through the eye.

Male Kingfish mature at around one year of age and 47cm fork-length, whereas females take longer to reach breeding age at 4 years and 83cm fork-length. This species spawns in the spring-summer period, the young fish stay well offshore until 40-50cm in length. Maximum age for this species is over 20 years.

Kingfish are often targeted using flasher or burley to attract the fish towards the diver. The best approach to get into range seems to be to simply wait for the fish to approach whilst hanging in mid-water. A speared fish will often be surrounded by other Kingfish, so a quick dive on a fish another diver has speared will often result in another capture. The recreational catch for this species is estimated to be between 120 and 340 tonnes per year.

Snapper

Common Name: Snapper
Scientific Name: Chrysophrys auratus
Maximum Size: 120cm
NSW Record: 13.221kg
Range: QLD, NSW, VIC, SA, WA TAS.

Snapper are found on coastal reefs and offshore. They can come in to shallow reefs, particularly after heavy storms. Small individuals are often sighted along the sandline adjoining rocky and coral reefs.

This species is best distinguished by the bright blue spots on its body when small, and a large snapper is unlikely to be confused with the Yellowfin Bream or Tarwhine. Large adults can have large humps on their head, which appear to be the result of benign skeletal growths.

The fish mature around 22-41cm in length (exact NSW data unknown) and spawn several times in a year. The juveniles live in shallow coastal bays.

To approach this species the best method is to burley a likely area and wait for the fish to settle in to feed before diving to the bottom near the burley and waiting for them to come back in. Commercial catches of this species range from 200-450 tonnes per annum. The annual recreational catch is estimated at 200-250 tonnes. The majority of the fish caught are within 3cm of the legal limit and it is estimated that less than 1% of fish reach 10 years of age. Snapper can live to be over 40 years old.


Nanygai

Common Name: Nannygai, Redfish
Scientific Name: Centroberyx affinis
Maximum Size: 40cm
NSW Record: 0.822kg
Range:  NSW, VIC, TAS.

Nannygai are found on deep coastal reefs to offshore waters. They often reside near cave systems, sharing them with Bullseyes. The fish pictured above was found in relatively shallow water of 27m.

This species is best distinguished by its red colour, large eyes and forked tail. The related Swallowtail Nannygai has a longer tail which has a deeper fork.

The fish mature at 10cm in length and can live to be 30 years old.

To approach this species the best method is to lie on the bottom close to where the school was sighted and wait for the fish to return. Commercial catches of this species range from 50-70 tonnes per annum in NSW water, with a further 800 tonnes in the Commonwealth managed fishery. The annual recreational catch is estimated at 20-40 tonnes.

 

Australian Salmon

Common Name: Eastern Australian Salmon
Scientific Name: Arripis trutta
Maximum Size: 75cm
NSW Record: 7.860kg
Range:  QLD, NSW, VIC, TAS.

Eastern Australian Salmon schools can be found along headlands and in bays, ranging in depth from 2-20m. The size of the schools can range from a few dozen fish to many thousands.

This species has a distinct green coloured back and dark tail, with individuals in good condition having yellow pectoral fins. Confusing species are Tailor, which are generally smaller (in NSW) and have a rounder head. Western Australian Salmon occasionally swim up the east coast but a difficult to tell apart from their local cousin unless the gillrakers are counted.

The fish mature at around 40cm in length and 4 years of age, spawning in coastal water during summer. The eggs and larvae drift south to Victoria and Tasmania before migrating north to complete the cycle. The sexes are separate.

To approach this species the best method is a slow dive, parallel to the school and waiting for the school to approach or cut across the diver. Commercial catches of this species range from 500 to 1000 tonnes per annum. The annual recreational catch is estimated at 150-200 tonnes.

Mangrove Jack

Common Name: Mangrove Jack
Scientific Name: Lutjanus argentimaculatus
Maximum Size: 120cm
NSW Record: 11.68kg
Range: QLD, NSW, NT, WA.

The Mangrove Jack is often found in estuaries, particularly as a juvenile. Adult fish can be found on rocky and coral reefs, to depths of over 100m. Mangrove Jack will usually have a home cave within their territory, and a good cave system may hold multiple fish.

This species is generally of a greyish colour underwater, unless spotted in the shallows where the red colouration will show. The white-grey line underneath the eye is a prominent feature of smaller fish. Confusing species include the Moses Perch, which has a black spot on its side and the Black Cod (see protected species page) which inhabits similar habitat.

This species spawns in late spring to early summer and juveniles drift on the prevailing currents before settling in estuaries and on shallow rocky reefs.

The Mangrove Jack will respond to burley, but the main challenge is locating the fish in the first place. Looking for good cave systems close by to baitfish and near the sandline seems to be the best approach.

Black Cod

Common Name: Black Cod
Scientific Name: Epinephelus daemelii
Maximum Size: 120cm
NSW Record: 81.00kg (before it became a protected species)
Range: QLD, NSW, VIC.

The Black Cod is found in rocky and coral reef habitat ranging in depth from inter-tidal rockpools to deep waters well offshore. Its colouring can range from greyish-white to pure black. The colour form pictured above seems to be the most common in shallower areas. The black spot on the caudal fin is a key identifying mark. It can be confused with the Wirrah which has a deeper body and blue spots on the head and body. Other similar Serranid species include the Purple Cod and the Maori Cod, both of which have similar cave dwelling habits, but quite different colouration.