Snapper Fish: What You Need to Know

know about snapper fish

Snapper fish have been a mainstay in our fine country for hundreds of years. Maori fishermen understand this better than most. Visitors today try to understand the ins and outs of snapper and have a go at this popular fish on their own.

The Study of Snapper in New Zealand

The study of snapper in New Zealand has a rich history that can be traced back to Captain Cook’s arrival in 1769. As early explorers and scientists ventured into the country, they collected specimens of this fascinating fish and documented their findings. Captain Cook himself played a crucial role in documenting the snapper, providing valuable insights into its behavior, habitat, and characteristics.

Through ongoing research, scientists in New Zealand have made significant contributions to the understanding of snapper. This has led to the development of scientific names for the species, which have undergone multiple changes over the years as our knowledge continues to evolve. These scientific names reflect the continuous efforts to uncover the complexities of snapper and deepen our understanding of this iconic fish.

One of the key milestones in snapper research was the establishment of the New Zealand Snapper Research Program. This program aims to study the snapper population, their migration patterns, reproductive behavior, and the impact of fishing on their numbers. By gathering data and analyzing the information, researchers can make informed decisions about the management and conservation of snapper in New Zealand waters.

The Importance of Snapper Research

Snapper research is vital for the sustainable management of this species and contributes to the overall understanding of marine ecosystems. Through the study of snapper, scientists can gain valuable insights into the health of our oceans, the impact of climate change, and the effectiveness of conservation efforts. This research also provides essential knowledge for commercial and recreational fishermen, helping them make informed choices to ensure the long-term viability of snapper populations.

Snapper Research FindingsImplications 
Snapper prefer specific habitats, such as rocky reefs and kelp forests.Conservation efforts can focus on preserving these habitats to protect snapper populations. 
Snapper exhibit seasonal migration patterns.

Regulations can be implemented to protect snapper during vulnerable periods, such as breeding seasons.

Changes in water temperature impact snapper behavior.Climate change mitigation strategies can be developed to protect snapper and the ecosystems they inhabit. 

The ongoing study of snapper in New Zealand is essential for the continued success and sustainability of this iconic fish. Through scientific research, we can deepen our understanding of snapper, protect their habitats, and ensure the longevity of this cherished species for generations to come.

Snapper Taxonomy and Common Names

Snapper, a popular fish in New Zealand, has a diverse history of taxonomy and common names. Over the years, this species has been referred to by various names, including “breams” and “schnapper.” However, the common name “snapper” gained popularity in New Zealand, becoming widely recognized among fishermen and seafood enthusiasts. Other countries also have their own variations of common names for snapper, highlighting the global appeal of this fish.

Scientifically, snapper belongs to the sparid family, which includes similar species found in different parts of the world. In New Zealand, early explorers and scientists played a crucial role in the study of snapper, collecting specimens and documenting their findings. This led to the development of scientific names for snapper, reflecting the ongoing research and understanding of the species.

It’s interesting to note that snapper is known as “squirefish” in the record books of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), emphasizing its significance in the sport fishing community. This further highlights the diverse range of names associated with snapper, reflecting its cultural and historical significance in various contexts.

Snapper Taxonomy and Common Names

Common Name

Scientific Name



Pagrus auratus

New Zealand


Pagrus major



Chrysophrys auratus



Pagrus spp.

International Game Fish Association (IGFA)

“Snapper, with its various common names and scientific classifications, showcases the rich diversity and cultural significance associated with this iconic fish. Whether you’re referring to it as snapper, bream, schnapper, or squirefish, one thing is certain – its popularity and appeal transcend borders.”

Snapper in New Zealand Waters

Snapper, known for its abundance and popularity among fishermen, can be found in various habitats along the coasts of New Zealand. This species thrives in sandy areas, rocky reefs, and kelp forests, making it adaptable to different environments. While snapper are more commonly found around the North Island, they can also be spotted in other coastal regions of the country.

Snapper tend to form schools, but they can also be found in pairs or even alone. This behavior allows them to efficiently forage for their diverse diet, which includes small fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans. Their feeding habits contribute to the balance of marine ecosystems and make them an important part of the food chain.

Snapper Habitat



Snapper prefer habitats with structure and cover, such as reefs and kelp forests, where they can seek shelter and find an abundance of food. These areas provide ideal conditions for snapper to thrive and reproduce.

The availability of suitable habitat is crucial for the successful conservation and management of snapper populations in New Zealand. Protecting their habitats ensures the sustainability of this valuable fish species and the preservation of marine biodiversity.

Snapper Feeding

Snapper have diverse feeding habits and are considered opportunistic predators. Their diet varies depending on the availability of prey items, which can include small fish like anchovies and pilchards, as well as crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps.

Snapper are equipped with sharp teeth and a strong jaw, allowing them to capture and consume their prey efficiently. They are known to ambush their prey, using their streamlined bodies and quick bursts of speed to catch them off guard.


Percentage in Diet

Small fish








Understanding the feeding behavior and dietary preferences of snapper is essential for effective fisheries management and conservation efforts. By monitoring their food sources and availability, authorities can ensure sustainable fishing practices and protect the long-term health of snapper populations.

Age and Growth of Snapper

The age and growth of snapper are fascinating topics that offer insights into the life history of this iconic fish species. Snapper reach full maturity around 4 years old, with males usually maturing slightly earlier than females. At this stage, they are ready to reproduce and contribute to the sustainability of snapper populations. Once mature, snapper can grow to an average size of 30cm.

The growth rates of snapper can vary depending on a range of factors. Food availability plays a significant role in determining how quickly snapper grow. Snapper feed on a variety of prey, including small fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans, which provide the necessary nutrients for growth. Local conditions and temperature can also influence their growth rates, as these factors affect their metabolism and overall health.

It is worth noting that snapper have the potential to live for several decades. Larger individuals can reach ages of up to 60 years old, and some exceptionally large specimens have been recorded close to the 20kg mark. These long lifespans contribute to the resilience and sustainability of snapper populations, allowing them to continue to thrive in their native habitats.


Size (cm)

1 year


2 years


3 years


4 years


5+ years


Snapper Food Quality

When it comes to seafood, snapper is often hailed as one of the finest options available, and it’s easy to see why. Renowned for its exceptional eating quality, snapper offers a delightful culinary experience that seafood lovers crave. The fish is characterized by its soft white meat, which has a delicate flavor and tender texture that melts in your mouth.

Snapper’s versatility in the kitchen is another reason why it is so highly regarded. Whether you prefer pan-seared, grilled, or smoked fish, snapper delivers a delectable taste in every dish. Its natural flavors shine through when cooked simply with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, but it also pairs well with a variety of spices and marinades.

For those who prefer to explore different cooking techniques, cooking snapper whole is a popular option. This method ensures that the flesh remains succulent and flavorful, while also preserving the delicate texture. Whether stuffed with herbs and lemon or simply seasoned, a whole roasted snapper is sure to impress both visually and gastronomically.

Snapper Recipes

Here are a few mouth-watering snapper recipes to inspire your culinary adventures:

  • Grilled Snapper with Lemon and Herb Butter: This simple yet elegant recipe combines the freshness of lemon and fragrant herbs with perfectly grilled snapper fillets.
  • Snapper Ceviche: For a light and refreshing dish, try marinating raw snapper in citrus juices, herbs, and a touch of chili for a zesty flavor explosion.
  • Pan-Seared Snapper with Mango Salsa: The sweet and tangy mango salsa complements the delicate flavor of pan-seared snapper, creating a tropical-inspired dish that will transport you to paradise.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook, exploring different snapper recipes will open up a world of flavors and textures. With its exceptional eating quality and versatility in the kitchen, snapper is truly a seafood delicacy that deserves a place on your dining table.

Snapper Around the World

The snapper fish, known for its rich history and significance in New Zealand, has relatives and similar species found in various parts of the world. These relatives include different types of breams and sea breams found in Europe, the Gulf of Mexico, and Japan.

In Europe, the gilt-headed bream is a close relative of the snapper. Renowned for its exquisite taste, the gilt-headed bream is highly sought after by fishermen and seafood enthusiasts. Its delicate flavor and succulent texture make it a favorite choice for Mediterranean cuisine, particularly in countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the sheepshead is another species closely related to the snapper. With its distinct black and white stripes, the sheepshead is easily recognizable. This fish is known for its ability to adapt to various habitats, including estuaries, reefs, and even freshwater environments. It is highly prized among anglers for its challenging fight and delicious meat.

In Japan, the red sea bream holds a special place in both culinary and cultural traditions. Also known as “tai” in Japanese, this fish symbolizes celebration and good fortune. The red sea bream is often served during important occasions such as weddings and New Year celebrations. Its delicate flavor and vibrant appearance make it a highly prized fish in Japanese cuisine.

Snapper Relatives and Their Characteristics




Gilt-headed Bream


Exquisite taste, delicate flavor, succulent texture


Gulf of Mexico

Distinct black and white stripes, adaptable to various habitats

Red Sea Bream


Symbolizes celebration and good fortune, delicate flavor, vibrant appearance

While each of these species has its own unique characteristics and cultural significance, they all share a connection to the snapper fish. Exploring the diversity of snapper relatives around the world provides a fascinating insight into the global presence of this iconic fish.


Snapper is a popular and well-studied fish species in New Zealand. With its rich history dating back to the early Maori fishermen and the ongoing research conducted by scientists, snapper holds a special place in the country’s fishing culture. Its taxonomy has undergone changes over the years, and it is commonly referred to as “snapper” in New Zealand, although different countries have their own names for this iconic fish.

Snapper can be found in various coastal regions of New Zealand, including sandy areas, rocky reefs, and kelp forests. They are known to school, but can also be found in pairs or alone. The fish has a diverse diet, feeding on small fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans, which contributes to its growth and maturity.

What makes snapper truly special is its excellent eating quality. With soft white meat, delicate flavor, and texture, snapper is considered one of the best eating fish in New Zealand. Whether pan-seared, smoked, or cooked whole, it never fails to satisfy the taste buds of seafood lovers.

Understanding the different aspects of snapper, from its history and taxonomy to its habitat and eating quality, can enhance one’s fishing experience and appreciation for this iconic fish. So, next time you head out to catch snapper or choose it as your seafood dish, remember the fascinating journey that this beloved fish has taken to become a favorite among fishermen and seafood enthusiasts.


What is the history of snapper in New Zealand?

Snapper has a rich history in New Zealand, dating back to the early Maori fishermen. It has been an important fish, making up a significant portion of pre-European middens in the country.

How did the study of snapper in New Zealand begin?

The study of snapper in New Zealand can be traced back to Captain Cook’s arrival in 1769. Early explorers and scientists collected specimens and documented the fish, leading to the development of scientific names for snapper.

What are the different common names of snapper?

Snapper has been referred to by various names, including “breams” and “schnapper.” However, the common name “snapper” gained popularity in New Zealand.

Where can snapper be found in New Zealand?

Snapper inhabit most coastal regions in New Zealand, with larger populations found around the North Island. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including sandy areas, rocky reefs, and kelp forests.

What is the average size of a snapper?

Snapper reach full maturity around 4 years old and grow to an average size of 30cm. However, larger snapper can grow up to 60 years old and weigh close to 20kg.

What is the eating quality of snapper?

Snapper is highly regarded for its eating quality and is considered one of the best eating fish in New Zealand. It has soft white meat and a delicate flavor and texture.

Are there similar species to snapper found in other parts of the world?

Yes, snapper has relatives and similar species found in different parts of the world. These include various breams and sea breams, such as the gilt-headed bream in Europe and the sheepshead in the Gulf of Mexico