Paristiopterus labiosus (Scientific name)
Giant boarfish (Paristiopterus labiosus) also known as sowfish have peculiar shaped characteristics, which distinguish them from other fish. The most commonly recognizable feature of the boarfish is its long snout and large thick lips. Adult boarfish have large, elongated slab-like bodies with dominant boney heads and gentle sloping foreheads – similar to that of snapper. They have extended back–swept dorsal fins with strong spines running through them. Juveniles and female boarfish have distinctive bands /stripes while the male boarfish (pictured above) have more solid coloured bodies with oblique markings and yellowish spots. The fish can vary in colours from grayish to olive with scattered markings /spots. Juveniles have short deep bodies, with shorter snouts – which become longer as they grow.
Juvenile boarfish are usually encountered in small schools while adults will normally swim in pairs (usually a male and a female pair). Boarfish can grow up to 100cm and weight up to 10kg, but are most commonly taken around the 50 to 60cm mark – around 3 to 6kg. Boarfish can be encountered in depths from 5m to 200m deep. They are commonly found on weed lines around the 15 – 20m mark, but have been re-occurring in shallower waters around 5m during summer. This is believed to be because of their spawning cycles and lack of fishing pressure on them.
Observations indicate that the boarfish are most frequently encountered on sandy areas near weed edges/weed lines. They have also been seen in broken, scattered weed edges or structures which sit on sandy or muddy bottoms. While their behaviour is not certain – these are the most common areas in which they have been documented. However, they have also been known to wander into the weed and display behavioral patterns similar to butterfish such as hiding in amongst the kelp, although this is more common in heavily populated weed lines.
Boarfish have been caught all around New Zealand – but are more abundant in northern waters where populations are greater. Giant boarfish have small bands of sharp teeth in the front of their mouth, with larger molars at the back of their jaws which they use for crushing. Boarfish use their large snouts like pigs to unearth and suck up invertebrates such as crabs, worms, brittle starfish and sea cucumbers from the sand or mud. Boarfish usually inhabit the same area/weed lines for extended periods of time.
Recently, larger numbers of boarfish have been reported – most likely due to the fact that they receive little or no fishing pressure from either commercial or line fisherman. It’s been observed that the boarfish will move into shallower waters during the summer months to spawn when the water warms up. During this period, they can be encountered in as little as 5m of water. While little is known about their growth rate it’s believed that they take a couple of years to reach full maturity and size.
Giant boarfish are renowned for their excellent eating quality and are highly regarded as one of the best eating fish around. They have few bones and white soft meat. Fillets can normally be quite chunky (if filleted correctly) and their flesh is delicate in flavour and texture. They can be adapted to a variety of recipes, but are best lightly pan-seared or smoked - see our boarfish recipe in this issue.