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When is a snapper too big?

Printed From: The Fishing Website
Category: Saltwater Fishing
Forum Name: The Captain Morgan Briny Bar
Forum Description: The place for general chat on saltwater fishing!
Printed Date: 25 Jun 2019 at 8:03am

Topic: When is a snapper too big?
Posted By: Buggar-me
Subject: When is a snapper too big?
Date Posted: 03 Jun 2019 at 6:23pm
We all catch snapper. So at what point ( or length) does it become to big to keep?
I don't keep anything under 35, and have caught a few of a decent size of around 55 cm.but always hear the term "pannie". Looking at some photos on here and sizes caught, am I putting back some good fish?
I catch to feed a couple of us so never overcatching.

Posted By: The Tamure Kid
Date Posted: 03 Jun 2019 at 6:39pm
I've heard two reasons for putting back bigger snapper - say 65+cm:

1. they are "our breeders" - presumably based on thinking that a bigger fish has better genetics as it's stayed alive for longer, plus either lays more eggs or produces more milt than a small fish (not sure how scientifically valid those reasons are, say for keeping one or two big fish versus say taking 7 x 30-50cm snapper out of the breeding population?)

2. they don't taste as good as younger fish. Hard to judge, but the 18.5lber I killed and cooked was a bit tougher in texture. In my view, very thick fillets are harder to cook to perfection, which is one other aspect to consider.

There's one main reason for keeping them: if they are caught in water 20m+ deep, when they tend to get 'the bends' being wound to the surface and aren't likely to survive release (according to most research I've seen). Better to keep them in that situation.

I've heard arguments against both points 1 & 2 above, but have put back two large fish (68cm, 69cm) that I've caught recently - for a mix of those two reasons (they were caught in 10-16m, so were fine to release).

I don't think anyone has the right to tell others they should release a big fish, particularly if the person with the big fish hasn't caught many, and if they intend to do the fish justice by using it all.

I get a bit pi$$ed off when someone posts a pic on Facebook of a big snapper and other people post "I hope you released that breeder" or similar.

Posted By: JustAnotherSpearo
Date Posted: 03 Jun 2019 at 7:01pm
I tend to rarely take snapper below 40cm. Average would be 55-65cm.

Been well over a year since ive killed a 20lber. Simply let them swim because usually 1. Too lazy to swim to the boat. 2. Means the days over as a lot of fish to consume for 2 people / only so much you can give away to the neighbours..

I also dont go out to get a feed. Goal is usually to try not have any gear break and or boat. Anything else is a bonus.

Posted By: smudge
Date Posted: 03 Jun 2019 at 9:39pm
I'd say it's too big if you don't have a use for it. There are plenty of ways to prepare fish without frying them. I think big snapper are beautiful smoked.


Best gurnard fisherman in my street

Posted By: ofthesea
Date Posted: 03 Jun 2019 at 10:58pm
Up to the individual, but after a few big catches I don't feel like it's any great achievement catching an extremely large snapper and for eating as fillets would rather have a mid-size fish

Posted By: Steps
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 9:19am
Big snapper , as mentioned tend to be a little more tougher... but not because they are bigger.
Its like lambs fry, needs to be just cooked, and to cook a thick one all the way thru, the outside gets over cooked...and tough.
Thicker lambs fry, if split thru the center cooks far nicer , even and tender.
 Larger snaps also smoke better (well at cold to 45 deg.. dont know about hot smoke), being thicker like kings, KY etc.
They cut up better for stir frys , curries etc.

Back to original post thu

We all catch snapper. So at what point ( or length) does it become to big to keep?
I don't keep anything under 35, and have caught a few of a decent size of around 55 cm.but always hear the term "pannie"
Subject time of yr/ hard fishing days
Start of the day.. objective is a feed.. anything over about 32 goes in the bin.. till a min feed for each family is caught.
Once that is sorted, pretty well choice of each crew from there.
 Once a good feed, bit to family , neighbours covered.. switch to big hooks.. 9 or 10/0, big baits till the bite dies away. Catch and release.
 In deep water, play the fish a bit more and bring up slower
It is very surprising just how small a snapper will get on a 10/0.

Posted By: MightyBoosh
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 10:02am
I changed my fishing style over the last year because I was catching too many big snapper. I try not to take more than I need, so if I caught a 15lb plus snapper within the first hour of fishing, that was pretty much my day over. A lot of preparation and cleanup for an hour's fishing! More than enough "meat" for my family. Plus there are the reasons outlined above for not taking big fish. Having said that, no point in releasing dead fish. Unless a fish is hooked in the mouth in shallow water, I would seriously consider keeping it. I fillet big snapper in the usual way, then cut the fillet in to "fish bites" across the grain which are just the right thickness for frying. No complaints.


World's most boring jetski "pilot".

Posted By: REIVER
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 10:54am
The texture does change in the bigger ones, but they are still delicious. 'Pannie' is relative to the size of the pan you  use! As Smudge said, fried is only one way to eat fish. Smoked snapper is amazing. Good recipe here for the really big ones." rel="nofollow -

Posted By: Downtown
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 8:39pm
Always an individuals choice. I tend to think alot of big fish get returned to just die either through poor handling or not taking coming up from depths well. One of the last fishing news mags had an article and had some figures from some studies which weren't great for bringing fish out of deeper water. Also think matt Watson is responsible for alot the knobs all over Facebook making breeder comments as he's always forced it down everyone's throats to release even at depths that don't have a decent chance of survival.

Posted By: JustAnotherSpearo
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 9:08pm
Fair call Downtown

Posted By: The Tamure Kid
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 9:35pm
Originally posted by Downtown Downtown wrote:

Also think matt Watson is responsible for alot the knobs all over Facebook making breeder comments as he's always forced it down everyone's throats to release even at depths that don't have a decent chance of survival.

I recall his episode using a venting tool to pop the swim bladder, and I've read question marks over that method of trying to save embolised fish. I understand that the crushing effects of the bends aren't that easily recovered from.
Mark Kitteridge is always making that point to people on the Ocean Angler Facebook page - that fish taken out of 50m should be kept.

It's also always been in the back of my mind whether elderly fish are actually effective breeders - or younger fish are better. Hence my comment earlier in the thread about the detrimental effect of taking 7 younger breeders out of the ecosystem versus one elderly one.

anyone seen any solid research on that?

Posted By: Muppet
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 9:36pm
This old chestnut, do what you will you know the limits. 

Posted By: cirrus
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 9:58pm
If you want to keep a big fish keep it. If you want to release it and its in good health release it. My wife managed a big fish last year .Open sand about 10-15 meters. Was gut hooked on a huge bait but  not bleeding. Tried to release three times but it just would not swim away
The fight in current had worn it out.
Kept it. Was one of the sweetest ,most tender fish you could wish for. 
Was only 72 cm to tail fork but in condition like you rarely see. So fat & deep across the shoulders.Would have gone 16-17 lb.
Do fish taken from deep water survive when released. I have had some snapper from 15 meter with the gut bulging out the mouth. Others from same depth look o.k
Re big fish been best breeders. Bigger the fish the bigger the roe.
Couple of years back there was a big snapper in new world. It went 24lb. It did not sell as a whole fish as hoped. So they filleted it.
They showed me the roe. Massive. Just didnt know roe got that big.
Shame that fish was lost to the fishery

Posted By: smudge
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 10:07pm
I don't understand the big fish genetics thing. All fish with big fish genes were little for most of their lives. They still had the same genes. Correct me if that statement is wrong. 

If that is true then a lot of fish on their way to the top should have been released? Surely that statement is true too. Also it must be true thatonly fish with big fish genetics get to be big fish. 

Ohhh hang on a minute, is their any science that says there is a 46cm snapper that is 80 years old? 

We only know what we know. 


Best gurnard fisherman in my street

Posted By: Horse1
Date Posted: 04 Jun 2019 at 10:20pm
I have the belief that good spawning is about more than the size of the fish and the size of the roe. Climatic conditions play a far bigger role than fish size from what I've been led to believe. Every legal fish on our boat is taken and we will pull stumps when we have enough for a good feed. I hate the thought i could be releasing a heap of fish that won't make it, that's just a waste.

Posted By: Garry 23041
Date Posted: 05 Jun 2019 at 6:52am
I put big fish back in part so someone else might get to catch it and have that buzz.
Particularly with kingfish these days getting smaller on average where I fish.
I think small snaps are finer flesh, nicer eating and to divert slightly we think fish from cleaner water taste better.
My wife and I agree fish from up north on the coast (north cape, reinga etc) taste better than bay fish.
Anyone else think/notice that?

Posted By: waynorth
Date Posted: 06 Jun 2019 at 10:06am
They often get a bit chewy over 7kg or so - fine for smoking or curries but maybe not so good for fish & chips.

Could be an age issue rather than size - the ranges in this chart surprised me. A 12 year old fish might be 90cm or might be undersized.

treat fish like fish

Posted By: cirrus
Date Posted: 06 Jun 2019 at 11:30am
Interesting. What was the source of chart. Probably accurate.
Did a bit looking to see what i could find.

Found that a 4 year old fish is 30cm. But another source says a 4 year old is 25cm. Neither report stated what fishery these figures came from. So growth could vary dependent on the fishery zone.
Another pdf from nz govt stated the oldest recorded snapper was 65 years old,measured 67cm ,recorded from sn7 in 2000.

Also statedthat from 1994 class in hauraki gulf, surveyed in 2009 @ 16years ,size varied from 28cm to 58cm. Big variation for same year class.

Posted By: Grunta
Date Posted: 06 Jun 2019 at 11:59am
Do what's right for all parties (ie: the angler and the fish) at the time. To me, that means if a snapper has been bought up from >20m and/or is blown, it's prognosis is probably not that great, and you should probably keep it.  That scenario gets worse the deeper you're fishing too.

Having said that however, it's all over if it's been spiked and in the bin.

As someone has already pointed out, the bigger snapper smoke up really well and if you cut the fillets up across the grain into appropriate-sized slices, are just fine to cook.

Again it comes down to doing what you believe is right at the time in my view. If you've caught enough for a decent feed and don't need it then why kill it?  If you're killing a trophy fish just for bragging rights then there are better ways these days and the number of clubs and contests that are moving to measure based contests and enabling the anglers to either keep or release the fish is growing. 

On the subject of genes, and breeding ability I think it's pretty well documented that large snapper produce more eggs than small snapper. Any gene pool carries a range of genetic material and some individuals will grow to be considerably larger than others and at any specific age, there will be a normal distribution of size - weights and lengths. So the argument about letting the big healthy specimens go from a genetic perspective is simply that they carry those strong healthy genes for biggie-size.

Here's a piece that ran in NZ Fishing News in March 2018 ago on genetics that goes into much more detail - I know the author well and she's a keen angler herself...

If you’re not already a member of the 20lb snapper club, your time might be running out thanks to human-induced evolution, suggests genetics student Anna Blair…

According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the most successful organisms will survive to thrive and pass their genes on to the next generation. While environmental factors are normally the major determinant of reproductive success, when we interfere with natural selection, the gene pool is altered, a process termed Human Induced Evolution. 

Selective agents
We tend to act as selective agents when fishing because there is a natural tendency to think that ‘bigger is better’ and to place a high value on ‘PB’s’ for different species. Large trophy fish often end up on the scales – most fishing contests bear witness to that observation. 

Removing a disproportionate number of fish with certain genes from a population means those genes are not passed on in the same proportion to future generations and the percentage of those fish in the total population will decline. 

Size-selective harvesting or killing of larger fish means a shift to greater proportions of smaller fish in the population. These smaller sized fish pass on their genes, so the average size in the population is shifted towards the smaller end of the scale.

Fisheries-induced evolution has been happening for decades and it happens much faster than natural evolution. Archaeological evidence confirms that the average size of snapper was once much larger than it is today. The age, size and weight of snapper at maturity has declined over time with the most likely causes an increase in fishing pressure and advances in technology.

Shrinking populations
Fisheries-induced evolution poses a threat to the future state of fisheries, affecting yields, stock stability and recovery potential of populations. Size-selective harvesting may cause fish populations to reach maturity at a younger age and smaller size, at which the individuals have lower productivity. 

Large female fish produce more eggs and larger males produce more sperm, so the number of offspring per head of population tends to be larger than with populations containing smaller sized fish. Larger males also tend to be preferred by females and have more reproductive success than smaller male fish. 

Genetic diversity is critical for the health and success of a population because it is the raw material for evolution. Genetic traits are naturally selected for or against based on fluctuations in environmental conditions. A reduction in genetic diversity results in decreased ability of individuals to adapt to changing conditions: fewer individuals will survive in the event of environmental change and population size decreases. The fish that do survive to produce offspring pass on similar genes, contributing to greater genetic uniformity. 

The cycle repeats, making it more difficult for a species to return to the productivity and diversity it once enjoyed. 

Not only does fisheries-induced evolution have a negative effect on the fish populations themselves, but it also has social and economic implications, such as decreased commercial fishing potential and a reduction in the contribution of recreational fishing to New Zealand’s economy.   

Norway’s cod
An example of fisheries-induced evolution has been exhibited in the case of the Norwegian cod stock. Large fish are prized in Norway and fetch higher prices at fish markets. The cod stock has undergone multiple declines since the first quota was introduced in 1978, and since 1930 the average size and age of sexual maturity in cod has decreased significantly. 

Doctoral research fellow Anne Maria Eikeset of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis published findings that suggested evolutionary change, as a result of the boom in the commercial fishing industry, is the culprit. As large fish go for the highest price, their genes for large size, increased reproductive success and later sexual maturity have continuously been removed from the population. 

The fact that changes are being made at the genetic level means fishing, both recreationally and commercially, is affecting species more than we have been aware of. While some populations may be able to recover in terms of biomass, it is unclear whether reversals in terms of genetic diversity are possible. 

Research models produced by various groups indicate that several years of evolutionary recovery will be required to restore populations to their highly productive and diverse states for each subsequent year of exploitation at its current rate. This ‘Darwinian debt’ will need to be repaid by future generations that are already suffering from other effects of environmental neglect. 

Fish for the future
So, what can we do about it? Fortunately, there are a few ways we can aid the recovery of our great New Zealand fish populations and reduce the amount of genetic diversity lost through fishing. We already have a size limit on the lower end of the scale, so maybe an upper size limit could be introduced during breeding seasons to allow big fish to reproduce and pass on their genes. 

Releasing large fish will also be important and fortunately a change of attitude around killing the big ones is starting to filter through to most anglers. 

Competitions should focus on sustainability rather than kill and weigh. Again, there’s a real shift to using measurement as the criteria for angling achievement and recognition. Today’s technology makes it easy to photograph a fish on a measure and have that recognised, but also allows big fish to be released to breed another day. 

The" rel="nofollow - DB Export NZ Fishing Competition is a good example of the use of technology to empower anglers to make their own decisions on what’s best for the fishery and sustainability.

We have an opportunity to make a positive change for future generations – letting some of those big catches go is worthwhile for the benefit of the future keen anglers of New Zealand. 

So, when you tick off that bucket-list goal of a 20lb snapper or a 30kg kingfish, if it’s in good condition, maybe it can go back to keep those large-growth genes in the pool!

Anna Blair is studying genetics at Otago University.


Posted By: cirrus
Date Posted: 06 Jun 2019 at 12:41pm
A well researched and very accurate article . 

Posted By: laidbackdood
Date Posted: 06 Jun 2019 at 10:13pm
As far as cook ability goes....a snapper is never too big to has the added bonus of extra fat most of the time and the flesh segments tend to hold together really well.......excellent for curry and tender cooked in curry too.....have cooked a few biggies that way.......big kingfish no probs too and puka and bass but a nice feeling to release a big fish !.......the enemy of ruining fish is over cooking it ...not its age or size........If you know what you are doing.....most fish can be cooked nicely.

Once the idiots turn up..Im outta here...No time for Drama Queens.

Posted By: widerange
Date Posted: 07 Jun 2019 at 7:44am
When it won't fit in your boat?

Posted By: Steps
Date Posted: 07 Jun 2019 at 9:58am
.the enemy of ruining fish is over cooking it ...not its age or size........If you know what you are doing.....most fish can be cooked nicely.

Now thats the secret...and applies to everything, lambs fry to broccoli.
 With thick fillets, or what ever you cook the outside layers get over cooked even if the middle is perfect (unless rare).. thats also the reason cooking pieces .. including veggies and fish in a wok are added at different times and cut to size.
 Why thick lambs fry is sliced thru the middle so the outside doesnt go like leather...Wienerschnitzel same

When it won't fit in your boat?
 Nah tow it home Thumbs Up

Posted By: cirrus
Date Posted: 07 Jun 2019 at 10:12am
but if you release all snapper over 2 meters in length there will be days you come home with nothing.

Posted By: Grunta
Date Posted: 08 Jun 2019 at 1:07pm" rel="nofollow - Here's some more research on size/breeding which concludes bigger female fish invest disproportionately more in making eggs than smaller females. The conclusion is, taking a single big fish has a bigger impact on the fish population than taking multiple small ones.

Ref: Science Daily covers recent Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute research. "Big fish produce disproportionately more and bigger eggs: A big deal for fisheries"." rel="nofollow - link

What difference does it make whether an angler catches one big fish or two smaller fish, each half its weight? Experts assumed that big and small fish invest the same proportion of their energy to make eggs. But a new report in Science by a Smithsonian biologist and colleagues shows that plus-sized females invest disproportionately more in the number of eggs and the size of individual eggs. Therefore, taking a single big fish has a bigger impact on the fish population than taking multiple small ones.

"Our results are critical for fisheries management: They tell us to reduce fishing pressure on large fish rather than smaller ones in order to maintain and replenish stocks," said staff scientist D. Ross Robertson at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. "We need to focus on reducing fishing pressure on large fish rather than exploiting them more heavily than small fish."

Led by Diego R. Barneche at Monash University's Centre for Geometric Biology and the University of Sydney, Robertson, along with evolutionary biologists Craig White and Dustin Marshall, also from Monash University, surveyed egg number, egg volume and energy invested in eggs by 342 different marine species, based on publications in Google Scholar about wild fish, as well as data on egg-quality of a range of species collected by Robertson.

The number of eggs laid by a single mother ranged from 11 to almost 58 million eggs per clutch. Egg volume ranged from a hundredth of a cubic millimeter to 0.345 cubic centimeters.

The energy content of eggs from fish collected at sites around the world from Japan to Corsica ranged from seven hundredths of a Joule to almost 300 Joules. Larger eggs have slightly less energy per unit volume than small eggs but a much higher energy content overall. Rather than finding a straight linear relationship: more weight implies more egg production, they found a power-function relationship: as weight goes up, the effort put into reproduction rises exponentially.

"There have always been two quite different explanations of the relationship between size and fecundity," Robertson said. "We collected enough data to identify what we think is generally the correct relationship."

From river systems, to trees, to genes, scientists are discovering that the properties of biological systems are often governed by power laws, rather than linear relationships. For example, scaling up the effective dosage of a drug in a mouse to the weight of a human resulted in overdoses, because the relationship was not linear. Also, ecologists working in Africa found that bigger species of savannah animals require disproportionately more space to live in than smaller animals.

"The realization that fecundity in marine fish is non-linear is important not only for managing commercial fish stocks to maintain and enhance their productivity, but also for understanding evolution and for managing invasive species such as lionfish, in which the big females seem to be concentrated in deep water," said Robertson.

Content Acknowledgement:
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute via" rel="nofollow - Science Daily .

Journal Reference:
Diego R. Barneche, D. Ross Robertson, Craig R. White, Dustin J. Marshall. Fish reproductive-energy output increases disproportionately with body size. Science, 2018; 360 (6389): 642 DOI: 10.1126/science.aao6868

Posted By: Got-ya
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2019 at 5:18am
They told us to 'limit our catch not catch our limit', which we bought into then they turned around and reduced it. We all started to have a voluntary 30cm minimum size limit and they who shall not be named found out and raised the size limit.
See a theme here? anyone? Learn from past mistakes before your best intentions return to shaft you. I for one will take any legal size I decide I have a use for and no amount of good meaning but poorly thought out pressure or looking down the nose snobbery will change my mind.
That 55cm fish you are all happy to take is probably in excess of ten years old but I bet the same crew would be the first to look down their noses at an angler who hangs up a fast growing stripy of 90kg which is probably about 5 years old.
If you want an upper size limit as well, with even more regulation and disconnect between commercial and recreation keep talking.


Posted By: Muppet
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2019 at 5:40am
Yeah I agree actually Got-ya. I think when they reduced limits to 7 per day a few years back with the threat of 3 per day mooted first I actually think that the 3 number will be banded again in the not distant future now. A long term ploy but I think I have wised up to the tactics in play here.


Posted By: smudge
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2019 at 6:21am
Originally posted by Muppet Muppet wrote:

Yeah I agree actually Got-ya. I think when they reduced limits to 7 per day a few years back with the threat of 3 per day mooted first I actually think that the 3 number will be banded again in the not distant future now. A long term ploy but I think I have wised up to the tactics in play here.


Me too


Best gurnard fisherman in my street

Posted By: Far Quirk
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2019 at 1:44pm
Some thoughts.

The graph posted by Waynorth is truly amazing and shows how diverse the size range is at any age.  Waynorth points out that a 12 year old snapper can measure between 28 to 90cms!  Even more gobsmacking is that a 3 year old snapper can be 23 to 70cms!!  Now this is wandering off into cloud cuckoo land, but if it was possible to tell a precocious big fish (for example a 3 year old 70cm one) from a slow-growing one (35 years old and 70cm), then it's my opinion that its better to release the young one.  But that's just hypothetical BS.

It could be that our commercial friends are actually targeting young fish.  For the Asian markets 25 to 30cm snapper are very sought after.  By selecting these fish they are removing small fish and helping to counteract the recreational fishos?  (I'm hearing howls or rage at this idea, but just putting it out there.)

Thru self interest, commercial fishos don't target shallow reefy areas, otherwise they would lose too much gear and waste time.  Not saying commercial fishos don't catch big fish, but maybe the recreational fishos targeting the shallow reefy areas are catching more big fish as a proportion of their catch?  Once again, a bit controversial.

I like fishing shallow reefy structure in winter, because there's always a chance I'll catch a big fish.  But it's only a small chance, and my lack of skill means the bigger ones mainly elude me.  But if I ever catch one over 65cms, I would be inclined to put it back after a quick photo.  Using big circle/recurve hooks and wet towels for handling the fish should improve their survival prospects.

Far Quirk - I'm goin' fishn!

Posted By: Grunta
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2019 at 2:14pm
Originally posted by Got-ya Got-ya wrote:

.........If you want an upper size limit as well, with even more regulation and disconnect between commercial and recreation keep talking.
Not sure how this thread could drive that conclusion or any reasonable rationale for it. There's some solid points and good evidence to support what many anglers currently do, and that's where they can, they release larger fish in good condition. I think most of us would like to less regulation, more common sense and individuals making good choices based on the circumstances at the time.

Posted By: Far Quirk
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2019 at 4:06pm
Western Australia

They have a minimum size of 500mm and a bag limit of 2 snapper per angler per day.  They measure the fish from the nose to the tip of the tail (not the V).  I'm guessing a 470mm snapper measured to the V would be big enough in WA.

Far Quirk - I'm goin' fishn!

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