Ask Dr Dazza: Tuskfish

Published 5:00am 19 May 2022

Ask Dr Dazza: Tuskfish
Words by Dr Dazza

Several species of tuskfish can contribute to our catches in Moreton Bay. Tuskfish belong to the family Labridae, which is a very large group of fish. There are more than 600 species, but most are relatively small and rarely encountered by anglers, although quite a few of these smaller fish are very popular in marine aquariums. Most species are hermaphrodites and only feed during the day.

Despite being commonly called “parrot” locally, the tuskfish caught by anglers in Moreton Bay are not parrotfish. The teeth of parrotfish are fused to form a distinct beak whereas the tuskfish have separate teeth that are not fused. The true parrotfish use their fused teeth to graze on algae in reef habitats whereas tuskfish use their teeth to crush hard prey such as shellfish, sea urchins and crustaceans such as crabs. The grazing habits of parrotfish contributes to reducing algae on coral reefs, which is an important ecological role that promotes the maintenance of live coral. The grazing habits of parrotfish also mean that they are rarely caught by anglers.

There are three main species of tuskfish caught by local anglers and spearfishers. All three species are either solitary or occur in small groups only.

The purple spotted tuskfish (Choerodon cephalotes) is more commonly referred to by locals as grassy tuskfish or grassy “parrot”. It is an inshore species and welcome byproduct for anglers targeting snapper in Moreton Bay and can be found at places like Mud Island, Wellington Point, Peel Island and around Redcliffe. They prefer reef and seagrass habitat. They mostly consume hard-bodied prey such as various crustaceans, molluscs and sea urchins. They are however very partial to fresh squid as bait. Despite how common they are, they have been rarely studied in Moreton Bay. They are one of several species that do respond positively to the presence of restored oyster reefs.

The black spotted tuskfish (Choerodon schoenleinii) or blue “parrot” is one of the larger species in the family and targeted by a small, dedicated group of anglers in Moreton Bay. Unlike the purple spotted tuskfish it is rarely caught by anglers as byproduct when targeting other species. Anglers who target them often use various small rock crabs as bait in specific well-guarded locations. They are brutes on the end of the line and heavy mono and stout rods are the gear of choice for most of these dedicated anglers. They are also a prized target for spearfishers in Moreton Bay.

The Venus tuskfish (Choerodon venustus) is perhaps the most frequently encountered tuskfish by anglers. The species only occurs in Queensland and northern and central NSW. It is an offshore species, but occasional juveniles are caught inshore at land-based locations including Amity Point on North Stradbroke Island and the Southport Seaway. They tend to be found in rocky reef and coral habitat in depths from about 10 to 80m. Individuals appear to attain sexual maturity as females in their second or third year of life at a size between 20 and 24cm fork length. The proportion of males increases as the fish increase in size.

All three species discussed are fantastic eating and you can safely keep them knowing that they are not the ones that are important for grazing on coral reefs and maintaining coral cover. The minimum size of these three species is 30cm and the bag limit for each species is five but there is a combined limit of six in total for all tuskfish species.

Ask Dr Dazza: Tuskfish

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