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Ask Dr Dazza | Garfish

Posted: 1pm 06 Oct 2021

GARFISH are another one of our underappreciated local angling species, but many a child has had oodles of fun watching them scoff bread and dance around when hooked.

They are of course fantastic bait for many species but also very good eating fish. There are at least 12 species of garfish in Australian waters.

Three species of garfish are commonly encountered by anglers in Moreton Bay – sea garfish, river garfish and snub-nosed garfish. Another three species may also be encountered. The snub-nosed garfish is just as happy in freshwater as it is saltwater and occurs in some of our freshwater impoundments where they are targeted by anglers.

Garfish are not to be confused with longtom. While both are slender surface fish, they belong to a different family of fishes.

The diet of garfish changes as the fish grows. Very small fish start out eating animal matter before they transition to consuming more plant material. Typically, garfish consume seagrass or filamentous algae and mostly in our region feed during the day. In other localities, garfish species can switch to feeding on plankton at night, but this occurs less frequently here. They are gutless – literally. Garfish lack a stomach but have jaws in their pharynx which they use to grind up food. Only the upper jaw is mobile, the lower jaw is fixed.

While most of our angling species simply shed large numbers of tiny eggs into the water, garfish take a different approach. They produce few relatively large eggs (more than 2.5mm) that are covered with filaments that allow them to attach to floating vegetation or vegetation on the seabed. The life cycle of garfish is thus dependent on suitable seagrass or algal habitats.

Garfish deposit batches of eggs that number in their thousands which is a far cry from the tens to hundred of thousands that are produced by many other species. However, they can start breeding in their first year and are relatively quick growing. Our common species grow to about six or seven years of age depending on the species.

Garfish tend to spawn more than once per spawning period and the spawning period is generally six months or more. Although there are some gaps in knowledge, spawning in Moreton Bay typically occurs in winter and spring.

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