Not many spearo’s need an introduction to the snapper. Snapper (Pagrus auratus) as they are referred to scientifically - are probably one of the most abundant and prized fish speared in New Zealand.
Snapper are usually pinkish or reddish-brown on the top half and silvery-white on their bottom half although these colours can vary depending on the snapper’s habitat. Dull pinkish snapper are commonly found on deep muddy grounds; whereas deep pink /red snapper are found closer inshore and brown-coloured snapper are found on reefs. Their bodies are usually
covered in luminous silver/blue spots, predominantly on the younger snapper, which are referred to as ‘squires’ or ‘pannies’ (pan-sized snapper). As the snapper grow, these spots begin to fade and the snapper become more solidly colored. Probably their most recognizable features would have to be their long spiny pectoral and dorsal fins, as well as their large sloping foreheads which are found particularly on adult snapper. They are also called hump head snapper, moochers or ‘old man snapper’. Snapper are known to school but it’s also common to find larger adult snapper in pairs or by themselves. Snapper generally range in size from 30cm to 90cm; from 2kg to 10kg in weight – although some monster specimens have been caught and encountered close to the 20kg mark.
HABITAT & FEEDING
As one of the more abundant species, snapper inhabit most of the coastal regions around the country. Larger populations are concentrated around the North Island, on the east and west coast – with their major spawning grounds found in the Hauraki Gulf. Snapper can be encountered in a variety of grounds from scattered sandy areas near weed edges (on weed lines) to shallow inshore, rocky areas, where they like to hide amongst the kelp. Snapper love to sit in the current or surge around the rocks and often a strong current / surge is a good sign that you might run into snapper. It’s common to find big moochers sitting in the shallows sunning themselves in the early morning – divers have actually reported them sleeping in the sun in the shallows. Snapper have large and very effective teeth – with sharp canines in the front and rounded molars at the back that they use to crush a variety of small fishes, invertebrates and crustaceans. They feed on over 100 different species such as crayfish, kina (sea urchins), crabs, pilchards etc. Often using one of these species as burley will bring them in.
AGE & GROWTH
Snapper reach full maturity around 4yrs old and about 30cm in length. The average schooling snapper that are encountered can be anything from 4 to 10 years old and the larger snapper around 5+kg can be anything from 20 to 60 years old. During the 4th year, about half of the snapper are believed to change sex and become males. The growth rates of snapper can vary depending on food, local surrounding conditions,fish density and temperature. Snapper prefer to spawn in warmer waters (during summer), cooler waters tend to make their spawning more erratic.
Snapper are of brilliant eating quality and are regarded as one of the best
eating fish in New Zealand. They have soft white meat and quite a few bones. Their flesh is delicate in flavour and texture. The fish can be adapted to a variety of recipes, but are best lightly pan-seared or smoked. Cooking them whole is another great way to preserve the succulent flavor.