The maori name ‘harpuku’ (translated as ‘big belly’)
is the most common term used for grouper in the Bay of Islands,
and by most northern New Zealanders. It is often confused with its
close relative, the bass or sea bass, hence sometimes named a bass-grouper.
The grouper differs from a bass in a number of ways: the grouper
has a bigger dorsal fin, a more slender and streamlined form and
a slightly more protruding lower jaw. Grouper is neither as fearsome
nor as ferocious as its appearance, although to be fair it’s
not the best looking fish in the sea!
However, grouper is highly valued as a game fish and food source.
Its colour is variable, usually shades of grey-blue to grey-brown.
Grouper can grow up to two metres in length and weights of over
50 kg are not uncommon. Grouper is a big-eating predator, favouring
squid, crabs, prawns and smaller fishes.
As a great eating fish, grouper is subject to heavy fishing pressure
and is now more abundant in deeper water. Although caught in a
variety of depths, these days they are usually targeted at around
the 60 to 100 metre mark, although sometimes extend down to 200
During the winter months in the Bay of Islands – the off-season
for marlin, grouper are fished for over deepwater reefs. In contrast
to marlin fishing, grouper fishing is regarded as more of a food-harvesting
exercise than sport fishing. When hooked in shallow water, where
they cannot be disabled by pressure changes, grouper give an excellent
account of themselves.
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