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Fish of the Year | Te Ika o Te Tau 2024

Fish of the Year 2024!
Vote for your favourite 3 fishes!

What is it all about?

Experiencing Marine Reserves' annual Fish of the Year | Te Ika o Te Tau competition aims to raise awareness for some of the issues our awesome ika face and teach people about the incredible biodiversity in our freshwater and marine environments. Voting opens Saturday 2nd March 2024 and closes Sunday 31st March 2024! Scroll down to place your vote!

Read more about our amazing ika and the organisations backing them.
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Anchovies | Engraulis australis

Anchovies | Kokowhawha | Engraulis australis

Anchovies are a common fish around the North Island of New Zealand. They are found in large schools on the surface of fish between 8-12cm in length. They are a bright silver colour with an iridescent blue/green back, helping them to counter shade against the light in the ocean. They huddle together in tightly packed schools to escape predators, with many eyes keeping a look out for predators. Anchovies are an important food source for many fish including kahawai, mackerel and kingfish. These dense schools are also predated on by dolphins, seabirds and gannets - with large multispecies foraging associations forming around large schools of anchovies.

Image credit: John Sear (iNaturalist).

 Auckland sea kayaks logo

Anchovies are being backed by Auckland Sea Kayaks and  Waiheke Marine Project in 2024


Basking sharks | Cetorhinus maximus

Basking sharks | Reremai | Cetorhinus maximus

Once abundant in some waters around New Zealand, the basking shark, the second largest fish in the world, is now a rare species to spot. In the past, aggregations of hundreds of basking sharks could be found off the coast of Kaikoura and Bank's peninsula. Unlike their toothy cousins, these sharks are filter feeders, swimming through the water filter feeding zooplankton and crustaceans in the water column. They favour coastal reagions with high plankton abundance and productivity. 

The major threats to basking sharks are directed fisheries and incidental bycatch in commercial and artisanal (traditional or small scale) fisheries. Basking sharks are protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. This means it is illegal to hunt, kill or harm basking sharks within New Zealand’s Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nm limit around New Zealand).

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Basking sharks are being backed by Auckland University Underwater Club in 2024!


Big-belly seahorse | Hippocampus abdominalis

Big-bellied seahorse | Manaia | Hippocampus abdominalis

Seahorses belong to the syngnathidae family, consisting of pipefishes, seahorses and seadragons! Big-bellied seahorses are the only seahorse species found around the New Zealand coastline and are one of the largest species in the world - growing up to 35cm! This seahorse is found among algae, seagrasses, and rocky reefs in shallow water and is attached to sponges and colonial hydroids in deeper areas. Seahorses are voracious feeders, eating mainly crustaceans, such as shrimp, and other small animals living among the seaweed, such as copepods and amphipods.

Male big bellied seahorses are super-dads, caring 300-700 young at a time in their pouch, caring for up to four broods in summer months.


Black angelfish | Parma alboscapularis

Black angelfish | Mata | Parma alboscapularis

Black angelfish are encountered in shallow rock-reefs in north-east NZ and offshore islands and feed on algae, salp and fish-eggs. Males (black with white spot) are fierce defenders of nesting sites, clearing seaweed and small animals from boulders with females picking the most beautiful boulder to lay their sticky eggs. Juvenile black angelfish are easily distinguished from other fish by their yellow-brown with iridescent blue lines!


Black mudfish | Neochanna diversus

Black mudfish | hauhau/waikaka/kōwaro | Neochanna diversus

Mudfish are long, skinny fish from the galaxiidae family. These survivalists are a threatened endemic species which have the ability to survive during times when there is no surface water - dropping their metabolism and slowly absorbing oxygen through their skin. However, surviving these dry periods is very stressful, with mudfish being in poor condition and having lower breeding success after water returns. Mudfish are at risk of habitat modification and degradation, such as wetland drainage, land clearance and modification of streams and habitats. In an effort to restore populations, Auckland Zoo has been breeding black mudfish, which were once widespread in Waikato, Auckland and Northland before widespread loss of habitat. As part of their 'Wild Work', the Zoo hopes to release black mudfish to the wild to help restore these biologically fascinating creatures!

Image credit: Auckland Zoo, Spinoff Partner Article 


Blue cod | Parapercis colias 

Blue Cod | Rāwaru | Parapercis colias 

Blue cod are bottom-dwelling predators which are endemic to New Zealand and common in Southern wanters to depths of 150m. They eat crustaceans, small fish, kina, worms and shellfish. They change sex from female to male, with males generally larger than females, reaching lengths of 60cm. These males control a large territory which they actively maintain to keep free of males. These cod have thick lipped mouths with rotating eyes, they are inquisitive and often approach snorkelers and divers within marine protected areas. They are a blush green to blue-black with white towards the belly. Larger ones are usually greenish blue while smaller ones are blotchy with brown patches. 

They have strong tips on their anal fins which provide support when they’re resting on the ocean floor.

Blue maomao

Scorpis violaceus

Blue maomao | Scorpis violaceus 

Blue maomao are schooling fish that stay close to the shore and inhabit rocky reefs to depths of 30m. When young, Blue Maomao are not blue yet but they are grey with a yellow anal fin. As they grow bigger, they become more blue and their anal fin loses its yellow colour. The young fish are found in very shallow water behind boulders and in crevices in the wave zone, often in company of young Sweep that look very much alike. 

The iconic blue mao mao arch at the Poor Knights is a must-see destination for any kiwi thanks to the large schools of blue mao mao that congregate there, creating a magnificently bright blue wonderland, as the light floods in. Safety in numbers is key. Blue mao mao move in schools to make it harder for predators to pick them off.

Blue maomao are being backed by Te Rangi i Taiawhiaotia Trust Trust in 2024!



Blue-eyed triplefin | Notoclinops segmentatus

Blue-eyed triplefin | Ruanoho | Notoclinops segmentatus

Triplefin fishes are the most abundant of New Zealand’s shallow-water subtidal reef fish. The blue-eyed triplefin is endemic to New Zealand and is easily recognisable by its iridescent blue eyes and red bands. It is a small ~6cm long fish which can be found in rocky reefs on steep slopes and overhangs from Cape Reinga to the Stewart Island! During breeding season, the males become brighter and set up nests in small depressions on rock faces. The males will often guard eggs from several females - super dad! There are 27 endemic species of triplefins in New Zealand! We are the triplefin capital of the world, with ~⅙ of all triplefin species being only found in New Zealand.

Image credit: Paul Caiger


Butterfish | Odax Pullus

Butterfish | Mararī / Kōeaea | Odax Pullus 

These kelp forest dwellers are found throughout New Zealand's rocky reefs and are endemic - only found in New Zealand. Butterfish are easily identified by their wavy mohawk of broad sweeping dorsal and anal fins which help them blend into the kelp around them. They are all born female, with the biggest and boldest females transitioning to become males and protect the harem and territory, existing in groups consisting of one male and several females. Females are brown-olive green whereas males are dark green to dark blue-black. Butterfish rely on healthy, balanced reefs with plenty of kelp, feeding mainly on brown algae like carpophyllum. As more of our rocky reefs decline in health and become kina barrens, butterfish habitats disappear. Butterfish are omnivorous, eating kelp and kelp-dwelling microorganisms. They are ~40 cm long, with males larger than females.


Common bully | Gobiomorphus cotidianus

Common bully | toitoi | Gobiomorphus cotidianus

The common bully, or toitoi, is endemic to New Zealand and found in a range of freshwater habitats. Of the seven bully species, the common bully is found all around Aotearoa. Sea-going populations occur in rivers and streams near the coast, whereas land-locked populations establish in lakes, becoming important prey species for trout and eels. They are well camouflaged against sand and rocks and can be seen darting through the shallows in the day. Common bullies are nest layers, with males guarding the nest until the eggs hatch. Larvae then go downstream to sea before returning to freshwater. Unlike bluegill, redfin and giant bullies, the common bully is not strictly diadromous (travels between salt water and fresh water as part of its life cycle) and can complete its life cycle without going to sea. They can grow to a large size, with some specimens reaching over 120mm. 

Image credit:
Photographer - Ebrahim (Ebi) Hussain, Organisation - Aotearoa Lakes, Location - Lake Tomorata
The common bully is being backed by Aotearoa Lakes in 2024!


Common triplefin | Forsterygion lapillum

Common triplefin | Forsterygion lapillum

Common triplefins come in a variety of colour patterns, but spot a distinctive longitudinal black stripe. They are often found in intertidal pools, sheltered harbours and mussel beds. They are abundant in the upper few meters of the water in coastal reefs that are not exposed to strong wave action. Males are fiercely defensive of their eggs, protecting them from predators. They are between 4-8cm, but larger specimens have been found in the South Island. Common triplefins are notably found around mussel farms and mussel beds, with the mussels creating a firm substrate for the triplefins and other creatures like gobies, spotties, whalks and octopuses to live amongst. Check out Revive Our Gulf's work on mussel bed restoration in the Hauraki Gulf here!

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Common triplefin are being backed by Revive our Gulf in 2024!

Crested weedfish

Cristiceps aurantiacus

Crested weedfish | Cristiceps aurantiacus

The Crested Weedfish is a skilled cryptic predator that is native to New Zealand and Southeast Australia. It is incredibly camouflaged to look, and move, like a blade of kelp. From here, it ambushes its prey and hides from its predators. They can grow up to 200 mm long, are found in stands of kelp from low water to depths of about 55 metres and vary in colour, camouflaging with their surroundings.

Check out this amazing documentary on the crested weedfish!

 The Weedfish short doc

Photo credit: Crispin Middleton (Seacology) 

Pātiki tōtara

Flounder | Rhombosalea plebeia

Flounder | Pātiki tōtara | Rhombosalea plebeia 

Sand flounder are native to New Zealand and found throughout the country in estuaries and shallow coastal water. They have a distinctive diamond-shaped belly and both eyes on one side of their head! Larval flounder start their life with eyes on each side of its head, with one eye slowly moving to the right side, allowing it to swim flat and lie on the ground. Adult flounder are adapted to feed best at night on sand or mud. They are ambush predators, going unnoticed by camouflage and then attacking their prey when it comes near using both touch and vision. They eat a variety of bottom-dwelling invertebrates such as crabs, brittle stars, shrimps, worms, whitebait, shellfish and tiny fish.


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Giant kōkopu | Galaxias argenteus

Giant kōkopu | Galaxias argenteus

One of the five ‘whitebait’ species, giant kōkopu are the largest species of the Galaxiidae family, with some individuals recorded over 45 cm long! The largest fish have reached 58 cm, 2.7 kg, and up to 20 years old! They are not as adept at climbing as other whitebait, and typically inhabit coastal wetlands, lakes, and forest streams. You can find them lurking under logs, branches, or overhanging banks waiting to dart out and grab unsuspecting koura or terrestrial insects. Unfortunately, little is known about their reproduction or spawning habits. They are considered declining and at risk across Aotearoa, likely due to habitat degradation and whitebait fishing.

Image credit: Jay Farnsworth

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Giant kōkopu are being backed by Auckland Zoo in 2024!


Goatfish | Upeneichtys Lineatus

Goatfish | Āhuruhuru | Upeneichtys Lineatus

Goatfish are found in the Southwest Pacific, including New Zealand and Eastern Australia. They inhabit sheltered rocky reefs between depths of 5 to 60 metres. Goatfish often forage in small schools, using their feeler-like barbels beneath their chin to sense out their prey buried in the sand. Male goatfish will change colouration during the breeding season to a blue hue to appear more attractive to females. The males also establish territories during this time, fending off other males and focusing on courting females with their new colour display. Goatfish can also flash a brilliant red colour, thought to help parasites stand out to cleaner fish that can then assist with their removal.

Mangō taniwha

Great white shark | Carcharodon carcharias

Great white shark | Mangō taniwha | Carcharodon carcharias

New Zealand is a global hotspot for white sharks, they are large and iconic marine predators which have been protected in New Zealand’s waters since April 2007. They are globally distributed and are long-distance migrants, making extensive return migrations along the continental shelves of the world’s oceans. White sharks are apex predators and play an important role in controlling populations of prey species. Males reach ~5.5m and females 7m, with their large size allowing them to feed on large prey such as marine mammals. A majoy threat to white sharks is unmanaged incidental catch and direct spot and trophy hunting. Indirect threats may also include the decline of important prey species due to overfishing, coastal productivity, habitat loss and pollution.

Great white sharks are protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. This means it is illegal to hunt, kill or harm Great white sharks within New Zealand’s Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nm limit around New Zealand).

Image credit: Clinton Duffy 


Polyprion oxygeneios

Hāpuku | Polyprion oxygeneios

Hāpuku are most often found in depths between 50 and 850 metres on deep, rocky offshore reefs. Hāpuku are predators, feeding on a large range of other fish species, invertebrates and crustaceans, including red cod and blue cod, hoki, crabs and crayfish. Hāpuku are a large, slow growing, long-lived species, they can grow as large as 100 kg, but are usually found around the 25 kg mark.

“Hapuku is a classic example of overfishing. Few people realise that in the early half of last century hapuku were a common reef fish on our shallow coastal reefs. Now they are considered a deep water fish as they are extinct in diving depths, particularly in northern New Zealand. We may never know what their ecological role was on shallow reefs. I believe their biomass is probably less than 5% of its pre-fished state, and their TAC (Total Allowable Catch) should be reduced to zero” The late Dr Roger Grace

Hāpuku are being backed by NZReefs in 2024!


Galaxias maculatus

Īnanga | Galaxias maculatus

The smallest of the galaxiid (whitebait) species, inanga, are native to New Zealand and are found all throughout the country in lakes, lowland rivers, streams and wetlands. Inanga begin life as eggs laid in vegetation beside streams in late summer and autumn. When the eggs hatch, they are carried downstream as larvae and spend the next six months at sea. In the spring they migrate upstream as whitebait and grow into adult fish. This diadromous lifestyle means they are threatened by both marine and freshwater issues including loss of spawning habitat, pest fish predation and migration barriers such as weirs and culverts.

Īnanga are being backed by Whitebait Connection in 2024!


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John Dory | Zeus faber

John Dory | Kuparu | Zeus faber

John dory are a solitary predator that spend most of their life in the demersal zone (near the seabed). The John dory has a high laterally compressed olive-yellow body – its body is so thin it can hardly be seen from the front. The large eyes at the front of the head provide it with the binocular vision and depth perception it needs to catch prey. They have a dark false eye spot which confuses prey, which are then sucked into its mouth.The large spot in the middle of their body is believed to aid in scaring away would be predators by mimicking the appearance of an eye of a much larger fish.Their camouflage and stealth makes up for their lack of speed – once they have snuck up on their prey they engulf it with their large extendable mouths. John dory primarily eat smaller fish, especially schooling fish such as sardines and occasionally squid. They use muscles to drum on their swim bladder, making a low pitch grunting noise. They are 40-60cm long with long dorsal spines.


Lamprey | Geotria australis

Lamprey | Piharau/kanakana | Geotria australis

Lampreys are ancient fishes which have existed for more than 360 million years. They are migratory fish, spending most of their lives at sea, moving to freshwater to spawn. Lampreys spend their juvenile life stages in freshwater and return to the sea for their adult life. While they can be mistaken for eels, they have a jawless mouth with a circular fleshy sucker lined with hundreds of small teeth and a rasping tongue. They have no fins near their head and have small holes which are the openings of their external gills. They hide during the day under logs and large rocks, venturing out at night to feed. Their populations are in decline due to habitat loss, reductions in water quality, predation from introduced dishes and instream structures blocking access from habitats upstream.

Image credit: Sjaan Bowie | Department of Conservation

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Lamprey are being backed by Mountains to Sea Wellington in 2024!


Leatherjacket | Meuschenia scaber

Leatherjacket | Kokiri | Meuschenia scaber

Found around NZ leatherjackets inhabit rocky reefs, feeding on encrusting sponges and molluscs on rocks and zooplankton in the water column. Their rough leathery skin helps to protect them from predators, and their sharp teeth allow them to scrape prey off the rocks. Leatherjackets are from the triggerfish family, using their retractable spine (trigger) which they can use as an extra defence against predators. They reach maturity at 18 cm and feed on soft comb jellies and salps when juvenile. They are found at depths of 20-200m. They have strong and incredibly sharp teeth, which allow them to scrape prey off the rocks.


Longfin eel | Anguilla dieffenbachia

Longfin eel | Tuna | Anguilla dieffenbachia

There are two main types of eels – the shortfin and the longfin. There are fewer eels today because of the loss of wetlands and historical commercial overfishing. They are migratory fishes starting their lives in the Pacific Ocean and travelling across the ocean back to New Zealand’s waterways to find suitable adult habitat in lakes and rivers where they live until they are ~25 years, they then undertake their migration back to the sea to spawn/breed and die. Long-finned eels are magnificent climbers, making their way well inland, climbing waterfalls and dams by leaving the water and wriggling over damp areas. In colour, longfins are usually dark brown to grey-black. Very occasionally, longfin eels found in the wild are partially or even wholly bright yellow in colour. They are easily mistaken for short-finned eels (Anguilla australis) which have a dorsal fin that extends only a little further than the anal fin. Longfin eels have a dorsal fin that extends a lot further forward than the anal (bottom) fin and have big loose wrinkles in their skin when bent.


Red pigfish | Bodianus unimaculatus

Red pigfish | Paakurakura | Bodianus unimaculatus

Pigfish are a large distinctive red-striped fish that is a member of the wrasse family. They are found in rocky reef kelp forest habitats, often following divers and are easily befriended by feeding them a broken kina. Eastern pigfish are protogynous hermaphrodites, i.e. juveniles first develop female reproductive organs that may change into male reproductive organs in certain circumstances. The two sexes have distinct colour patterns, although occasionally fish are found with an intermediate colouration. Females are pinkish-red with distinctive dark stripes running the length of their body. Males, however, have a distinctive dark blotch on their dorsal fin and are are an overall pink colour with a lighter spot on their back. They have a large mouth and thick lips, allowing them to graze in the reefs, feeding on benthic invertebrates. Males are often larger than females, reaching 50cm and 30cm, respectively.


Porcupine fish | Allomycterus pilatus

Porcupine fish | Kōpūtōtara | Allomycterus pilatus

Porcupine fish are a slow-moving fish found in rocky reefs at depths of 5 - 100m. They are common in northern NZ, less so in southern NZ and can be found in southern Australia. They feed mainly on molluscs, crustaceans and echinoderms, using their fused teeth plate to crush hard shells. Like their cousins the pufferfish, they can ‘puff up’, and expand their bodies using water, up to 3 times their original size. This is only used as a last resort as it seriously decreases their manoeuvrability and increases their likelihood of capture by predators. Porcupine fish, along with pufferfish contain a  neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which is produced by a symbiotic bacteria, as a defence against predators. This neurotoxin is at least 1200 times more potent than cyanide. This type of fish could be fatal if ingested but a dried-out carcass poses little or no risk if it was only touched. A second defence mechanism is provided by the sharp spines, which radiate outwards when the fish is inflated. They are uniquely shaped and are easily identifiable by their rugby ball body shape, awkward swimming style and outward-facing spines.

Redfin bully

Redfin bully | Gobiomorphus huttoni

Redfin bully | Gobiomorphus huttoni

Redfin bullies occur in small boulder streams, foraging on mayflies, caddis flies and larvae. They are sensitive to the effects of siltation in streams and live near the coast due to their strictly diadromous lifestyle (migrating between freshwater and saltwater). Spawning occurs in freshwater, with larvae being swept out to sea after hatching. They are easily distinguished from other bullies as males have distinctive colourations, with bright red diagonal stripes present on their cheeks and fins. These stripes are visible
even in young/small bullies. They are found all around Aotearoa, including Chatham and Stewart Island but are rare along the South Island’s east coast.


Red moki | Cheilodactylus spectabilis

Red moki | Nanua | Cheilodactylus spectabilis

Red moki are a common fish found in rocky reefs around the North Island of New Zealand. They are found in kelpy habitats and are easily identified by their eight reddish-brown vertical bands with paler reddish bands inbetween. They have a deep compressed body with thick fleshy lips. The red moki is carnivorous and it feeds on a variety of benthic invertebrates, such as gastropods, bivalves, crustaceans, polychaetes and small sea urchins. The predation on very small sea urchins by red mokis may play a role in controlling the urchin numbers and in preventing the creation of urchin barrens. They spend a lot of time in caves and crevices, only venturing into the open to feed. They are territorial and remain in their territory for their lifetime, often many hundred square metres. They can grow up to 60cm long and live for up to 60+ years.

Image credit: Shaun Lee, STET


Olive rock fish | Acanthoclinus fuscus

Olive rockfish | Acanthoclinus fuscus

Meet our rockpool contender for Fish of the Year! The elusive olive rockfish. This is the largest of the commonly encountered rockfishes and is an intertidal species living in rockpools and the intertidal zone. It has unique adaptations allowing it to live in the precarious rock pool world - they have a homing behaviour, allowing them to return to the safety of their rockpool as the tide falls. If their pool becomes unsuitable they will leave to find another rockpool to call home. They are able to breathe air, allowing them to survive if they become stranded and need to maneuver to another pool. They swim in a sinuous motion, similar to an eel, wriggling their way around the intertidal area to feast on crustaceans and molluscs. 

Image credit:  lcolmer - iNaturalist


Sandager’s wrasse | Coris sandeyeri

Sandager’s wrasse | Tāngahangaha | Coris sandeyeri

Found in Northern NZ and Australia, the Sandager’s wrasse inhabits rocky reefs to depths of 60m. They are found in harems of one male looking after many females. The juveniles within the group will all develop into females, however, when the groups male dies, the most dominant female will change sex into a male. Sandager’s wrasse are sexually dimorphic with the males having dark and brightly coloured bands, whereas females are paler in colour with 2 dark pink spots. They feed on benthic invertebrates, like chitons, amphipods and gastropods and can be found feeding on the bottom of the seabed. Juveniles will pick off and eat parasites on larger fish - forming a cleaning symbiosis.   


School shark | Galeorhinus galeus

School shark | tupere | Galeorhinus galeus

School sharks are common in New Zealand’s coastal waters, reaching depths of 200m. They are a relatively small shark compared to bronze whalers, only reaching lengths of 1.7m for males and 1.9m for females as adults. They have a dark blue-grey upper surface and white belly and a bilobed tail. While it is not threatened in New Zealand, it is threatened overseas due to overfishing and sedimentation and siltation of nursery habitats. They are migratory with tagged sharks travelling 5,000km, and making their way across the Tasman Sea to Australia. They can be mistaken for bronze whalers but are distinguished from other sharks by their long-pointed snout and notched tail.

Image Credit: Alex Burton (iNaturalist) and Micheal Evans


Scorpion fish | Scorpaena cardinalis

 Scorpion fish | matuawhāpuku, rarai | Scorpaena cardinalis

Scorpion fish, also known as the eastern red scorpionfish, grandfather hapuku or New Zealand red rock cod are found in temperate waters and are distributed around Northern New Zealand, the Tasman Sea, and the Kermadec Islands. They are found over reefs and rocky shorelines from low tide level down to about 100m.

Scorpion fish are masters of disguise and have cryptic colouration. Scorpion fish are red in colour. There can be some colour variation, including dark blotches, and a mottled orangery red-brown appearance that provides perfect camouflage as they rest on the bottom sitting up on their fan-shaped pectoral fins. 

The scorpion fish has a disproportionately large head and equally large cavernous mouth. This is an advantage, it is a predatory fish that often lie motionless on the bottom, ambushing their prey. Scorpion fish are calm creatures and do not often attack. If they feel threatened however, in order to defend themselves, they will stick out their dorsal spines which are toxic. A sting from this fish can be excruciatingly painful.


Shortjaw kōkopu | Galaxias postvectis

Shortjaw kōkopu | Galaxias postvectis

Short jaw kōkopu (Galaxias postvectis) is one of New Zealand’s five species of migratory galaxiid. Like their name suggests, they have a receding lower jaw which enable them to feed on insects that fall from stream vegetation. They are easily identified by this distinctive jaw shape and dark blue/black splotches behind their gills. This native fish is rare and secretive, seeking refuge and hiding amongst boulders in healthy, bush-covered streams. It is one of the species caught as whitebait during its juvenile life stage. They are considered to be a threatened species, with migration barriers, deforestation and declining stream health thought to be some of the reasons for their decline. 

Image credit: Shaun Lee, STET
freshwater foundation

Shortjaw kōkopu are being backed by Freshwater Foundation in 2024!


Snapper | Chrysophrys auratus

Snapper | tāmure | Chrysophrys auratus

Snapper are found in inshore waters, rocky reefs and coastal areas up to 200m deep. They occupy nearly all habitats within inshore waters of northern NZ. Adult snapper are generalists, occupying a wide range of habitats and feeding on a variety of prey types. They are a keystone species in NZ waters, controlling kina numbers by being a primary predator of these spiky prey. When snapper populations decrease, they modify the structure of the environment they live in, with a boom in kina numbers stripping the environment of kelp.

They spawn in warmer waters with juveniles spending time in the mangrove forests and seagrass beds before moving to rocky reefs. All snapper are born female, with half changing to male before reaching maturity. Older and larger snapper will develop a hump on their head and lose their iridescent blue spots.  Older and bigger snapper produce more eggs than smaller snapper and are important for population maintenance and recovery following overfishing and should be avoided when fishing/spearfishing. This has been demonstrated in marine reserves where the recovery of snapper and other predators resulted in an increase in kelp forests after these predators reduced populations of kelp-eating urchins.


Snapper are being backed by BLAKE in 2024!


Spotty | Notolabrus celidotus

Spotty | Paketi, Pakirikiri | Notolabrus celidotus

Spotties are endemic to New Zealand and are found around rocky reefs and estuarine habitats. Females have a large, perfectly round spot on either side of their body, whilst males have a collection of smaller spots near their dorsal fin. All spotties start their life as female and once the male of their group dies the largest female will transition to male and take over the role. Male spotties are very territorial and will defend their group of females (harems) from other males. Once the male of their group dies the largest female will transition to male, and take over the role. They are sexually dimorphic (male and female look different). Females have a large, perfectly round spot on either side of their body, whilst males have a collection of smaller spots near their dorsal fin. Spotties can live for up to 7 years and are always on the move, either feeding or guarding their territory. Spotties are very active hunters, feeding on small benthic organisms like crustaceans and worms. They use their forward jutting front teeth to scrape food off the seabed, with not much escaping their grasp. 


The spotty is being backed by Marine Invaders in 2024!


Spotted stargazer | Genyagnus monopterygius

Spotted stargazer | Pūwhara | Genyagnus monopterygius

The spotted stargazer is an elusive fish, choosing to stay hidden and expertly camouflage in the sandy seabed. They are found around New Zealand at depths of up to 100m. They are a ‘sit and wait’ predator, hiding themselves in the sand waiting for passing demsersal (bottom dwelling) fish to pass by. Their large mouths are adapted to gulp their prey in one swift motion. Reaching lengths of 45cm, they breed in spring and summer. The female fish lays transparent eggs at the bottom of the sea which then float towards the surface and hatch to larvae. Until they become 12 – 15 mm long they remain in the pelagic zone and then swim to deeper water to mature into adults. They are venomous with two large venomous spines located behind their opercles and above their pectoral fins.


Basking sharks are being backed by NZ Marine Sciences Society in 2024!


Torrent fish | Cheimarrichthys fosteri

Torrent fish | Panoko | Cheimarrichthys fosteri

Torrentfish are a stocky freshwater fish that are well adapted to life in shallow, fast moving riffles and rapids. They have an undercut jaw that is paddle shaped and surrounded by a fleshy upper lip. They are adapted for picking vertebrates off the surface of stones. They have robust pectoral fins which are large and triangular helping them to stay in position in fast-flowing water. They have dark stripes on their body helping it to blend into it’s stony habitat. They are amphidromous, with larvae going to sea after hatching and returning as juveniles to freshwater where they grow up to adulthood. Because of the marine phase of their life, they are unable to form landlocked populations. River sedimentation and habitat degradation are a threat, with torrentfish needing to live amongst loose gravel.

Image credit: Whitebait Connection Auckland (iNaturalist)


Trevally | Pseudocranax dentex

Trevally | Araara | Pseudocranax dentex

Trevally are schooling fish abundant in northern North Island near headlands, pinnacles and islands where currents tend to concentrate lots of plankton. They have blue-green colouration with metallic overtones with their fins having a yellow-y tinge. A small dark blotch often appears on the upper gill plate. They are both pelagic and demersal in behaviour, growing rapidly and reaching maturity after about five years, and living to 45 years, reaching over 60cm. They play an important role in multi-species foraging associations herding krill and small fishes to the surface, making it easier for seabirds to forage.

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Trevally are being backed by Wettie in 2024!


Trumpeter 2

Trumpeter | Kohikohi | Latris lineata

Trumpeter | Kohikohi | Latris lineata

Trumpeter are found through Aotearoa, but are most common in the southern South Island up to depths of 200 m. They can grow up to 1.2 m long and 27 kg, living up to 43 years - maybe even longer! They can be identified by three distinctive olive green stripes running along their sides which give them their scientific name, lineata. Larval trumpeter can disperse over large distances, spending up to 9 months in the open ocean before metamorphosing into juvenile fish. Adult trumpeter are typically found on rocky reefs rich in invertebrate life, feeding on array of invertebrates found on the seafloor, such as mussels, crabs, shrimp, squid, and octopus!

Two-spotted demoiselle

Chromis dispilus

Two-spotted demoiselles | Chromis dispilus

Demoiselles are a small fish (10-20cm) from the damselfish family and are a common sight in rocky reefs in the North and East cape of the North Island. They are known to be very territorial and are easily identified by dark blue colouration and their distinctive eye spots near their tail and dorsal fin. They inhabit rocky reefs to depths of 60m and are plankton feeders, feeding in schools of 500+ individuals. They feed on small zooplankton, often hanging out in areas with high currents. Male two spotted demoiselles are highly aggressive when courting for females and guarding their nests. Males will fight for prime territory with good resources and shelter, so that they have the best chance of reproductive success. They will have distinctive pairings during spawning season, which happens between December and March. The eggs are laid on substrate in the demersal zone and males will circle their nests to guard them from predation. Males have slightly smaller stomach sizes during spawning season compared to females, due to the allocation of resources for courtship and the guarding of nests


Yellow moray | Gymnothorax prasinus

Yellow moray | kaingārā | Gymnothorax prasinus

The yellow moray is a moray eel found from south Australia to the Hawkes bay region of New Zealand. They are found in rocky reef environments often peeking out of rocks and moving slowly backwards into small spaces when frightened. They are a common sight when scuba diving, particularly around the North-East coast of the North Island. It prefers coastal waters and is not as common on the outer islands like the Poor Knights. They are opportunistic carnivores, waiting until their prey is close enough for them to lunge out and clamp them with their needle-like teeth, using their second jaw (pharyngeal jaw) to help them eat. They feed mainly on crustaceans and vary in colour from green-yellow to brown-yellow. 


Yellowfin Kingfish | Seriola lalandi lalandi

Yellowfin Kingfish | Haku | Seriola lalandi lalandi

 Yellowtail kingfish are found throughout the warm–temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. In the wild they can reach 1.7 m in length and weigh up to 56 kg. The common name “yellowtail” comes from their bright yellow fins but they also have a distinctive golden-brown stripe running from the snout to the tail. They feed mainly on small fish such as trevally, piper and garfish. Kingfish is a traditional food source for Māori and a highly valued recreational species. Kingfish are a popular recreational fish in New Zealand. With their streamlined body, kingfish are fast-swimming and ferocious hunters and are commonly seen in shallow bays, harbours or estuaries where they hunt bait fish. Kingfish camouflage well within its environment. The darker top half camouflages it by making the fish difficult to see from above because it closely resembles the dark colour of the water. The lighter bottom half has the same effect when looking upward toward the light from the ocean floor. The silvery-white stomach blends in with the light rays shining downwards, making it difficult to see them against the light. 

Whale shark

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Rhincodon typus

Whale Shark | Rhincodon typus

A new entrant in te ika o te tau, and a big one at that. Whale sharks claim the top spot as the largest fish in the ocean. They have been reliably measured growing over 12 m long, weighing 34 t (that’s 28 Toyota corollas), and living up to 80 years! While the name suggests it could be a mammal it only describes its size, there’s nothing more fishy than this. 

Whale sharks are one of only three filter feeding sharks, using sieve-like filter pads to separate phytoplankton, krill, and other small organisms from the water. They are a migratory species, covering huge distances to feed or mate. A tagged female travelled 7,800 km in just 5 months! In 2016 whale sharks were listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and have decreasing populations. However, they have a high recovery potential if there are sustained conservation efforts.


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Whale shark's are being backed by Dive! Tutukaka in 2024!

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