Chelidonichthys kumu (Scientific name)
Red gurnard are found on or near the seabed throughout parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
They are most abundant north of the Chatham Rise in shallow waters and although they are found around the entire New Zealand coast (except southern fiords), they are most commonly found over muddy seabeds and flat sandy bottoms up to about 50m.
Because gurnard love sedimentary bottoms, the Hawke’s Bay area provides the perfect habitat for them. Around Auckland, the hot spots are the big west coast harbours – the Manukau and the Kaipara – especially in mid-winter when most of the snapper have emptied out and the gurnard move in.
Fish don’t like working harder than necessary, and it stands to reason that they prefer to travel and feed where the currents are slower, given that some current is necessary to carry nutrients and support the ecosystem. The edge of a channel/harbour, where the bottom starts to shelve up, is a good default spot to start. If this coincides with a ‘choke point’, where the topography (such as a point or reef) concentrates the fish moving through a channel, so much the better. This is why they are often caught in shallow waters.
Red gurnard live to about 16 years and reach sexual maturity at two to three years of age when they are around 23 cm (from the nose to the fork in the tail). At that time their growth rate slows and they gradually reach a length of around 42 – 55cm.
Females tend to grow faster and larger than males, but growth also varies by location. Red gurnard off the east coast of the South Island grow faster than those in other areas.
Red gurnard spawn through spring and summer, peaking in early summer. Their spawning grounds are thought to be extremely widespread and the egg and larval development occurs in surface waters.
Red Gurnard belong to the Triglidae family. It has a stout, reddish-pink to bright orange body, with a large head and eyes. The large brightly-coloured pectoral fins are bluish-green with one large, dark spot and several small white or blue spots and a blue margin.
Gurnards are very distinctive bottom-living and feeding fish and are sometimes known as sea robins. The head is protected
by large bony plates and strong spines. They have a spine on each gill plate and while it’s not immediately obvious, it really does some damage so handle carefully.
The lower three rays of the pectoral fins are separate, finger-like processes that contain sensory organs. These are used by the gurnard for ‘walking’ and as feelers to ‘feel’ for small fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates living in the sediment. Red gurnard love to eat crabs, shrimps, small fish and worms.
It is believed that the fish will flare its brightly coloured pectoral fins as a display or to startle potential predators.
They are also capable of making sounds using drumming muscles that are beaten against the gas bladder. In fact, their name comes from the old French word ‘gornard’ meaning ‘grunter’ or to ‘grunt’.
Gurnard has had a negative reputation in the past, probably due to its looks rather than its taste. They are actually very delicious with firm pinkish/white fillets that hold their shape when cooked. They have a low oil content, but are still rich in potassium and calcium. Gurnard works well with many flavours.