SNAPPER
Sci: Chrysophrys auratus

Common Names: As one of Australia's most popular and important species, snapper have earned an array of alternative names. "Red", "big red" and "reddie" are amongst the most common. Throughout much of Western Australia this fish is called "pink snapper", in order to distinguish it from several unrelated species, while for international record keeping purposes, the same fish is also referred to as squire fish. Snapper also have different names at various sizes in some regions. There was once a strongly established system of size-gradation amongst east coast snapper anglers. The smallest fish were known as "cockney bream", "cockneys" or "cockies", the next size up were "red bream", then "squire", then snapper and, finally, the largest were "old man snapper". Thankfully, this archaic system is now largely a thing of the past. However, in Victoria and parts of New South Wales smaller snapper - from legal length up to 1 kg or so in weight - are often called "pinkies", while the same fish in South Australia are known as "ruggers". Finally, it should be noted that snapper is still occasionally misspelt as "schnapper", usually by fish-shop owners and restaurateurs.

Description: The snapper is a deep-bodied fish with powerful jaws and strong, peg-like teeth. Larger adults often exhibit a distinct hump or bump on the head, and sometimes an enlarged nose area, but this is by no means universal. In New Zealand waters, snapper almost never develop these humps and lumps, and in Victoria and South Australia, some very large specimens have practically no hump. Snapper colouration also varies from one locality to another. Fish caught in deep water over hard reef tend to be a much brighter red than those taken on sand or mud. Typical snapper colouration is red to pinkish-silver or coppery on the head and back, rosy-silver with blue reflections on the flanks, and silver or silvery-white on the belly. The flanks are heavily peppered with small, iridescent blue spots. The fish's fins are usually dusky red, and the anal fin is often edged with blue, and the bottom lobe of the tail may be white along its leading edge.

Size: Outside of South Australia or New Zealand, an 8 or 9 kg "red" is the catch of a lifetime. The majority of snapper taken off the east and south east coasts today weigh from 0.4 to 5 kg. Even in Port Phillip Bay - once renowned for big "reds" - fish over 9 kg cause large crowds to gather at the cleaning tables. In contrast, many 8 kg-plus snapper are still taken around New Zealand's North Island although, even here, 10 kg-plus specimens are rare. The situation is somewhat different in parts of South Australia, where snapper sometimes average 8 or 9 kg and regularly exceed 12 kg. The one location where snapper grow even larger is Norfolk Island, where occasional "reds" as heavy as 18 kg have been recorded.

Distribution: A member of a worldwide family with close relatives in Japan, South Africa, North America and the Mediterranean, the snapper is found right around the southern half of the continent; from at least Rockhampton in Queensland to Carnarvon in Western Australia. However, it is practically unknown in Tasmanian waters, at least outside of Flinders Island, the Tamar estuary and certain other north coast locations. In New Zealand this fish is found right around the North Island, and as far down the east coast of the South Island as Christchurch. Snapper also occur around Norfolk Island and, sporadically, near Lord Howe Island. Ideal habitat for snapper include open ocean reef or gravel-bottomed grounds 20 to 150 meters deep, particularly those close to structures such as pinnacles, headlands, islands and bomboras. In southern waters, large spawning-related migrations of snapper occur in flat-bottomed sand- and mud-bottomed bays.

Fishing Techniques: Because of the diversity of environments in which they live and the size range of the fish themselves, technique and tackle for snapper fishing vary immensely. For example a surf-caster on New Zealand's Ninety Mile Beach will use very different gear to that employed by a party-boat customer fishing the seabed in 100 m of water off Coffs Harbour, or a small-boat angler, chasing finicky winter reds in the shallows of Geelong's Corio Bay. However, despite the differences occasioned by geography, certain basics apply whenever and wherever snapper are found: In water of less than 40 m, the best results will usually be enjoyed by those anglers using un-weighted or lightly-weighted baits of cut fish flesh; particularly tuna, bonito, pilchards (whole or cut), garfish pieces, squid, octopus, prawn and crabs. In deeper water, sinkers weighing between 100 gm and 1 kg may be needed to take the bait or baits to the fish. Here prawns, squid and cut fish are often the favoured options. Rockhoppers and surf casters mainly use 60 to 120 gram sinkers and baits of octopus, squid, pilchard or cut fish flesh, but at dawn, dusk and after heavy seas, good fish can be taken close to the rocks on un-weighted or lightly-weighted "floaters". Big snapper will also succumb to live baits, and will occasionally strike lures, particularly jigs.

Eating Qualities: Snapper are very highly rated as food fish and have a high commercial value. They have white, moist and slightly flaky flesh, occasionally tending towards dryness in very large specimens. Fish in the 0.6 to 5 kg range are usually regarded as being the best for the table, although they are delicious at all sizes. They freeze well and lose little of their flavour or texture if frozen soon after being caught.

By Steve Starling