Greg James
Fish of the Month

Greg James acknowledges and thanks the members of the Marine Life Society of SA for their kind and generous assistance with many of the photographs used in this section.

This Months Fish of the Month is:

Goolwa Cockle (pipi)

The eastern states know them as 'pipis' and their native name is 'ugari'. Cockles are found in inter-tidal zones along sloping sandy beaches, using their extended tongues to hold themselves upright just below the surface. Plebidonax deltoides is the scientific name for the Goolwa Cockle which as many know, is a small, edible saltwater clam found predominantly in the surging, sandy beaches around the mouth of the mighty Murray River on the south coast of South Australia. It is a bivalve mollusc which can grow to a maximum length of 60 mm.

The Goolwa cockle inhabits an area from the West Coast to the famous Coorong beaches in the State's South East. The over-demand from restaurants & similar for the culinary attributes of the cockle have dramatically increased in the past five (5) years. This has resulted in a high competitive increase in the price of cockles for both fishing & human consumption. A quick summary as follows:

  • 2008: A commercial quota of 36,800 tonnes was introduced.
  • 2009: Season closed after juvenile fishery collapsed with over 90% of catch being babies.
  • 2010: Recreational bag limits reduced from 600 to 300 cockles per person per day.
  • 2011: State Govt increases commercial quota from 300 to 330 tonnes then cockle harvesting is cancelled due to dangerous levels of E. coli in the water.

Greg James' personal opinion is that the short and long-term strategies for cockle protection needs to be totally over-hauled, as the current system is not working.

Greg James would like to acknowledge and thank PIRSA.Fisheries for some of the data presented in this article.

Fish File

Giant Kelp

The Giant kelp is hardly a "fish", but I thought it is such an interesting topic and so very relevant to our coast. It's scientific name is Macrocystis pyrifera and the name is because of its incredible size - individual plants may grow to up to 50 metres long! The stalks arise from a holdfast and branch near the base. Blades develop at irregular intervals along the stipe, with a single pneumatocyst (gas bladder) at the base of each blade.

Also known as string kelp, giant kelp is a large brown algae that lives in cold temperate waters off south east Australia. Giant kelp can be distinguished by its long string-like stalks that have many leafy blades. Giant kelp plants form a buoyant surface canopy similar to the ways trees form a shady canopy in terrestrial forests. Its fronds grow vertically toward the water surface. Their presence on a rocky reef adds vertical structure to the marine environment that creates significant habitat for marine fauna, increasing local marine biodiversity.

Kelp forests undergo regular seasonal growth, with peak growth in spring and regular dieback of plants during the winter months. Individual giant kelp plants can live up to seven years, however they may be shorter lived and removed in environments of high water motion associated with winter storms. Kelp forests are also subject to dynamic changes caused by herbivores such as sea urchins, which eat them. When urchins reach high population numbers they are known to completely remove Macrocystis from an area, resulting in an "urchin barren".

Rock Lobster

Arguably one of the Southern Oceans most sort after shellfish delicacy, the Jasus edwardsii, (southern rock lobster) is a species of lobster found throughout coastal waters of southern Australia and New Zealand including the Stewart and Chatham Islands. They are also known as crays or crayfish by those fishers lucky enough to be able catch them!

Southern Rock lobsters are carnivorous, leaving shelter to feed during the night. They live in and around kelp-beds, intertidal reefs and underwater limestone ledges at depths ranging from 5-200 metres. Their diet consists of abalone, small crustaceans and shellfish, worms and small mussels.

Rock Lobsters sexually mature between 6 and 10 years, with eggs (berries) being born on the underbelly of females who can carry between 100,000 and 500,000 eggs. The eggs develop here for up to 6 months and then change into naupliosoma larvae and mimic plankton-like animals that ebb and surge with the tides and ocean swells. Southern Rock Lobster has among the longest larval development known for any marine creature. The phyllosoma (a Greek word meaning 'like leaves') may take up to 2 years in oceanic waters before reaching the post-larval stage (puerulus) - which then swims towards the coast to settle.

Yellowfin Whiting

The yellowfin whiting (Sillago schomburgkii) is a sandy brown to pale silvery grey colour with a darker dorsal surface and paler underside. There is a narrow silver mid-lateral band with a brownish band above, although these bands may be pale or indistinct. As yellowfin whiting grow, the yellow colour of the fins often fades and in large specimens may be completely absent.

Yellowfin whiting generally inhabit inshore sand banks, bars, and spits, and congregate in sandy hollows. At high tide they move in schools across the sand flats and retreat to the slopes of the banks when the tide falls. These whiting are principally marine residents and can tolerate upper Spencer Gulf waters with salinity as high as 40-50 parts per thousand. They may also penetrate to the limit of the brackish water in tidal creeks, where salinity is as low as 1 ppt.

Juveniles inhabit warmer water, mangrove-lined creeks and inshore protected environments over mud bottoms and seagrass beds. The yellowfin whiting is a benthic (sea-floor) predator, using its well-developed eyesight and downward pointing jaws that can be protruded to 'suck up' and capture its prey from the seafloor. They feed mainly on polychaetes and bivalves with minor amounts of copepods, amphipods. In South Australia, once spawning has occurred the fish disperse and move further offshore once again. Females release between 170,000 and 217,000 eggs per season.


Southern garfish (Hyporhamphus melanochir) is a schooling species of pelagic fish that forage and inhabit sheltered bays and coastal estuaries across Southern Australia in waters to a depth of 20 metres. These fish alternate between the surface and the sea floor, seeking safety and food in beds of sea-grass and ribbon weed. Garfish belong to the marine half-beak fish family which are omnivores feeding on algae and marine plants such as sea-grasses. Plankton, crustaceans and small fish also form part of their diet. Colouring is a beautiful blue/green on top, running to a silver body.


Rapidly becoming a famous species targeted by shore-based anglers, the Argyrosomus japonicus is a silver/bronze coloured fish which grow up to 2 metres in length and can weigh anything up to 42 kilograms! We call it mulloway in SA, while our West Aussie cousins know it as Jewfish, the name coming from the large 'earstones' which are located behind and below the eyes.

For many years it was and still is sold in restaurants and take-away food outlets as butterfish – a delicious, rich and creamy tasting fish often battered and cooked in hot oil. Mulloway feed on smaller fish species, molluscs, small crabs and crustaceans. Green/brown top, large scales running to an off-white body that reflects its bottom feeding nature.


The highly-prized Kingfish is in fact a mackerel from the Carangidae family of fishes, which makes it a close relation to fish like tuna, wahoo and bonito. Features of the Australian Kingfish include two dorsal fins and a unique ability to 'hide' its dorsal fins in clefts of the fish body itself - making it an outstanding swimming and hunting machine!

The main reason for these fish to have the strength that they do is their enormous mass of 'red muscle', giving them a capacity to swim huge distances and often at great depth.

Kingies spawn seasonally around reasonably shallow reefs and sometimes in sheltered bays where their buoyant eggs benefit from warm water and a reasonably good supply of plankton-like food for early stage sustenance and life. Incredibly, Kingfish eggs (spawn) have a minute droplet of fish oil embedded in the larvae which maintains buoyancy! Kingfish have mainly a carnivore diet which consists of other smaller fish species, baby squid and shrimps.

Yellowtail Horse Mackerel

The Trachurus novaezelandie, or Yellowtail Horse Mackerel, is an amazing little fish that lives in a magic marine habitat that extends from Geraldton on the West Australian coast in an easterly direction right across to the Chatham and Stewart island groups. These islands are sou-south east of New Zealand.

Little Mack takes its botanic name from the Greek meaning 'rough tail' and lives in a submarine world from 5m to 500m in depth. It is often called 'scad' or 'jack' mackerel and has been commercial fished (by trawlers) since the 1970's when an annual harvest rate of an incredible 150,000 tonnes almost pushed the species to extinction! The Yellowtail Horse Mackerel is vastly under-rated as a tablefish and is absolutely delicious when baked whole with herbs such as chillies, garlic, paprika and rosemary. The species longevity will be greatly enhanced by the new Australian system of Marine Parks (Marine Protected Areas).

Eagle Ray

Photo courtesy of Jon Ketley - all rights reserved.

Eagle rays are from the parent family of fishes called Myliobatidae (literal meaning of a fish with flat dorsal fin) and belong specifically to the cartilaginous fish genus. These absolutely outstandingly beautiful sea creatures make the ocean floor their home and seem to effortlessly cruise and glide through the depths at will.

The Gulf waters and the east-west coastline of South Australia are critically important to these fish. This is because of the vast range of estuaries and relatively shallow tidal beaches that allow the ebb and flow of tides to produce a wide range of food items that sustain an incredible range of rays.

Most Eagle rays feed on crabs, prawns, molluscs and crustaceans, crushing their shells with their scissor-like teeth. The larger rays feed on plankton and small shrimp. The annual spider-crab migra-tion run which occurs only in SA as these animals shed their shells provides an important link in the sustainability of the ray population. Rays are excellent swimmers, are ovoviviparous and can give birth to up 5 or 6 baby rays at one time.

Greg James personally believes all rays should be placed on the endangered species list and a ban placed on fishing for them.

Tommy Ruff

One of our most loveable, frisky, spiky and enduring fish species found in South Australia, West Australian and Victoria. The politically correct advocates would want us call it the 'Australian Herring' - which in itself is incorrect as it is not related to the original European herring family of fishes - but we all know, love and call it 'Tommy Ruff' or as Greg calls them 'Mr Ruffs, Monster Ruffs, Rascally Ruffs, Monster Tomsters, etc'.

Whatever, the Arripis Georgianus is a true-blood of the four (4) member family of salmon, pilchard (mulies) and sardine fishes and for jetty anglers often one of the first caught when they go fishing. The Ruffs go to school with companion fish such as gar, snook and mullet and can grow to close to a kilo in weight and size. The largest recorded jetty-caught ruff in SA came in at just under 800gms from the Stenhouse Bay jetty in the late 1970's.

A Monster Tomster Ruff for sure!


The magnificent White Trevally (Pseudocaranx dentex) from the extensive Carangidae family of fishes is generally found in the bays and recesses of South Australia's coastal waters. Many juveniles inhabit estuaries & offshore reef systems after having been incubated from an extensive egg system that is pelagic (meaning they exist near the surface). After expending eggs most adult fish head out into relatively deeper water and have been recorded swimming in depths of up to 300 metres. It is not unusual to find White Trevally living in mixed schools of salmon (Arripis trutta), mackerel & jackfish.

Greg James believes South Australia's two gulfs provide a critically important shelter for the trevally i.e. anywhere from the western & eastern tip of Kangaroo Island in a direct line to Cape Jervis (east) and Louth Bay (west) - as one of the world's largest natural breeding grounds! There are many examples of White Trevally juvenile schools in these areas.


The beautiful, iconic snapper is one of the most instantly recognized fish from the fragile coast of South Australia - with several intriguing family/botanic names such as Pagrus auratus & Chrysophyrus auratus. To many anglers it is a glamour fish - a much sought after species & has subsequently been heavily fished for decades. Snapper can take up to five (5) years after birth to choose their sex (much like the blue wrasse) & vary in colour from dark red to a bright pink, with colourful sparkling blue beauty spots across the main part of the body. Juvenile (baby) snapper, also known as rugger snapper, are found in relatively sheltered marine waters while the adults tend to inhabit reefs, rocky ledges & drop-offs & sunken wrecks in greater depths.

Once juvenile snapper begin to mature they move to deeper, offshore waters. They will usually remain in these waters until they reach 12 to 13 years of age, and then return to inshore waters for the remainder of their lives. Snapper in South Australian waters will spawn between late October and early March, with most snapper in the gulf waters reaching sexual maturity when they reach 28cm in length. An interesting size:age chart for snapper is as follows:

  • 28cms = 5 years
  • 38cms = 6 years
  • 60cms = 12 years
  • 90+cms = 35 years

Research indicates that snapper prefer a diet which includes octopus, leafy sea-dragons, blue, velvet & sand crab, squid, abalone, sea urchins & mussels.

Greg James would like to acknowledge PIRSA.Fisheries for some of the data presented in this article.

King George Whiting

An iconic fish almost endemic to marine fishing and life in Australia, the Sillaginodes punctatus inhabits coastal areas from Jurien Bay in the West to Botany Bay in the East. It is the largest member of the smelt-whiting family and is easily distinguished by the patterns of silvery/brown spots and its length.

First named by the explorer Cuvier in 1829, the name 'King George' was actually taken from 'King George Sound', the body of water where it was caught, rather than the bloke himself. A natural bottom feeder, there is some evidence that KG whiting use a system of 'sonar' searching for prey rather than sight.

Red Snapper

The Centroberyx gerrardi lives from the continental shelf to our rocky shores, forming dense schools close to the bottom at dawn and dusk and dispersing at night to feed. Juveniles also aggregate in schools and are found in estuaries and shallow coastal waters to feed on small fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Over exploitation by commercial trawling & netting has drastically reduced the nannygai numbers since the 1950's. Here is a beautiful fish species that has clearly demonstrated lineage to Australia's un-equalled ancient marine history - have a close look at the haunting face with a down-turned mouth, large eyes & swallow shaped tail. Unbelievable! Exact fossils of this fish are found high in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia - demonstrating the fact that it was here millions of years before any humans came close to our shores!

Greg James now believes Australian governments should place the red snapper on the endangered species list for a minimum of 10 years to help recovery of the species.

Western King Prawn

The Western King Prawn (Penaeus Latisulcatus) has several common/local names and is similar in appearance to the Eastern King Prawn. This beautiful creature lives in a wide expansive habitat from Indonesia to Korea and then south right through to Kangaroo Island in South Australia, parts of Western Australia and even into the Gulf of Carpentaria off Mud Crab Bay!

The Western King Prawn grows up to 30 cms and is a swimming crustacean with a rather sophisticated circulatory and nerve system that makes up a complex bisexual creature which reproduces eggs in the millions. The two Gulf systems in South Australia are a critical life-supporting environment that shelters the tiny larval moult for many weeks after the female sheds her eggs, where the juveniles spend up to a year before they head back to sea! Amazing but true!

Blue Manna Crab

The famous blue crab � not a fish � is Greg James favourite marine species of all time! Portunus Pelagicus is also known as the blue swimmer or blue manna crab and can be caught with drop nets or dabbed from the shore, often as the tide recedes. The fertilised female is called a �sponge crab� and produces an incredible 2 million odd larvae in mating season. The larvae (zoea) are swept out to sea and covered in an external �exoskeleton� which has to be shed for growth to progress. Female crabs moult regularly and achieve full size in their second year (our SA summer).

The protective actions of the male crab after mating need to be seen to be believed � the male fully protects the softer shelled female (jenny) until her shell hardens & she is safe from predators.

Greg James would like to thank & acknowledge the generosity of David Pearce for his kind permission to use the above photograph

Southern Calamari

From the marine family of �Cephalopods� (ancient Greek for �head with feet�) there are several hundred squid species around the world. These are truly beautiful and amazing creatures, possessing 3 hearts (each with 3 chambers), a water-fuelled, oscillating jet propulsion system and a skin that is made up of chromatophores (enabling camouflage). The tough beak in the mouth is comprised of chitin & even the stomachs of whales cannot digest it.

Interestingly, marine scientific research is arriving at the conclusion that squid (& cuttlefish) are believed to be colour-blind!

Respect & protect the cephalopod family by not using them as live bait for other species.

Leafy Sea Dragon

The Leafy Sea Dragon is actually a marine fish within a beautiful marine habitat along the southern and western coasts of Australia. The Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus ethes) is from the Syngnathidae family of fishes and propels itself by means of a pectoral fin on the ridge of its neck and a dorsal fin on its back.

This absolutely unique and stunning creature has a long, pipe-like snout that it uses to feed and, similarly to species of seahorses, its diet consists primarily of crustaceans including plankton, mysids, shrimp and small fish, catching its prey by using camouflage. Leafy sea dragons surprisingly do not have teeth, which Greg James believes to be rare amongst animals that eat small fish and shrimp.

If there was ever a reason needed to protect the marine habitats of South Australia, have another look at the photo!


Flathead are from the fish family of Platycephalidae (incredibly related to the Australian platypus!) and are known to enjoy the habitats such as estuaries & southern sandy flats & beaches of the Australian coast. They are particularly notable for having their rather large eyes on the top of a flattened head, giving excellent binocular vision to attack overhead prey and as such, are somewhat similar to flathead & flounder. The better known Australian species are dusky, sand & tiger.

The Banded Sweep

There are several species of this great little ‘rascal’ fish and they are generally found around our exposed reefs & rocky bottoms in surging tides and rough water. The Scorpis Aequipinnis can grow up to 40cm & schools with snapper & trevalley. Sweep are aggressive feeders and compete for space among the coastline in SA from Fowlers Bay on the West Coast through to Port McDonnell in the State’s South East.

If there is ever a species that reflects the simple beauty of our coastline habitats, Greg James feels The Banded Sweep is it!

The Snook

Also known as the Sea Pike, this beautiful fish is a relative of the barracuda family, is found in all Australian States and grows up to 1 metre in length. The scientific name is Sphyraena Novaehollandiae which means it was one of the very first fish caught and named by the European navigators in the 15 th & 16 th century on their journeys to the Great South Land, most likely by the early Dutch seafarers!

The Red Mullet

Highly valued by the Roman & Greek early civilisations as it was easily dried/smoked & used by travellers, this fish (Upeneichthys lineatus) is red with bright blue lines between the eyes and the mouth ��and has two barbels below the mouth. The flesh is white and not only good eating fresh or smoked, but excellent bait for either blue crabs or snapper. Also known as Mullus Surmuletus (old French word for red) it is widely spread throughout the Mediterranean and the southern waters of Australia (sometimes referred to as goatfish).

Australian Salmon

A beautiful fish with an enormous migratory habit, this fish gathers in huge schools off the NSW & Victorian coasts for migration to Western Australia in January each year. They spawn at sea and then enter bays and estuaries to feed, with the younger fish often known as salmon trout.

Scientific name is Arripis Trutta and they will take most baits when feeding. They can be caught from the beach in the deeper sandy holes in the surf and by boat when trolling. A great fish to eat very fresh or smoked and cured.

They can be found along the beach in the channels and large holes in the surf.

Leather Jacket

Also known as the �trigger fish� due to the top spinal mechanism attachment to the body, this infamous fish is common to most Southern States. Normal habitat is sand through to reefy bottoms and makes excellent eating if prepared correctly. A range of scientific names, but the better ones are Meuschenia Freycineti and Meuschenia Hippocrepis.