Kōrero: Coastal fish

Whārangi 7. Fish of the northern and southern rocky sea floor

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Northern rocky sea floor


These brightly coloured coastal fish have two barbels (fleshy filaments) extending from their chins – resembling a goat’s beard. With these they detect their prey of small invertebrates living on the sea floor. New Zealand has a common species, the red mullet (Upeneichthys lineatus), and two rare species – the black spot (Parupeneus spilurus) and bar-tailed goatfish (Upeneus francisi).

Red moki

The red moki (Cheilodactylus spectabilis) is a distinctive species with its alternating reddish-brown and white vertical stripes. The species occur most commonly off the North Island around reefs, and off southern Australia. They may live for up to 60 years.

Splendid perch

Often found swimming in loose associations with pink maomao, the splendid perch (Callanthias australis) is named for its markings. The male has a purple head, red-orange rear and yellow tail fringed with purple. The female is red-orange with purple fins. They mate in mid-October, when the markings of the male become spotted, and aggressive courtship dances occur. They are mainly found around the North Island, but occasionally as far south as Westport.

Pink maomao

This neon pink fish (Caprodon longimanus), known to Māori as mata, mostly lives in areas with moderate currents, below 10 metres. The average length is 30–40 centimetres. They are abundant around rocky headlands and offshore islands to depths of 80 metres. A schooling fish, they feed until dusk on plankton. They are found mainly on the north-east coast of the North Island.

Black angelfish

Restricted to New Zealand and Lord Howe and Norfolk islands, the black angelfish (Parma alboscapularis) is blackish with a white mark above the gill. They are a territorial reef fish found from the Bay of Plenty northwards.


The demoiselle (Chromis dispilus) is found mainly in the warmer waters around the North Island where it is one of the most abundant reef fish, feeding on plankton. These small fish (10–20 centimetres) have been termed the swallows of the sea because they swoop and dart about as they grasp food borne on currents. Like swallows they have deeply forked tails, which open and close like scissors so they can twist and turn as they feed. Dense schools of up to 500 fish provide protection when predators such as kingfish attack.

Southern rocky sea floor

Black cod

Also known by the name Māori chief, this species (Paranotothenia angustata) is quite common in rocky areas around southern New Zealand and some subantarctic islands. It is dark grey to greenish with darker mottling. Caught on lines, it is edible but inferior to blue cod, and is often used as bait in lobster pots.


Also known by the Māori name kohikohi, the trumpeter (Latris lineata) is a reef fish that is rare north of East Cape. They frequently school with blue and copper moki. Averaging 50–80 centimetres in length, they feed on small fish, octopus and squid and are highly regarded by recreational anglers.

Telescope fish

Found mainly south of Cook Strait on rocky coasts, the telescope fish or koihi (Mendosoma lineatum) is more abundant around the southern South Island. They form fast-moving schools near reefs. Their telescoping jaws are used to feed on small fish and crustaceans.

Acknowledgements to Malcolm Francis

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Carl Walrond, 'Coastal fish - Fish of the northern and southern rocky sea floor', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/coastal-fish/page-7 (accessed 25 April 2024)

He kōrero nā Carl Walrond, i tāngia i te 12 Jun 2006