Milky White Flesh in Snapper - Update

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    Posted: 20 Mar 2023 at 11:41am
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This condition has been quite prevalent particularly in the Hauraki Gulf but also some reports from further north. Here's the latest from Fisheries New Zealand - MPI but the exec summary is evidence of nutritional deficiencies being more likely post spawn.

Reports of fish with milky white flesh
In 2022, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) received reports of some snapper and trevally being caught that had flesh that looked "milky white" or "mushy". This is being referred to as "milky white flesh syndrome". While the syndrome has been seen and reported in previous years, it appears to be more common this season (2022-23).


White flesh of a fish with the syndrome. (Photo credit: Moana New Zealand)

We know the syndrome has been affecting snapper in the Hauraki Gulf and East Northland areas. There have also been some reports of the syndrome appearing in other finfish species, such as trevally.

Tests found no biosecurity or food safety concerns
Testing of snapper with this syndrome has found no reason for any biosecurity or food safety concerns. The main finding from the affected fish was evidence of nutritional deficiencies. This can happen after fish spawn.

A summary of the testing report will be published in the June 2023 edition of Biosecurity New Zealand's quarterly magazine, Surveillance.

Help determine the spread of milky white flesh syndrome
As a precaution, Biosecurity New Zealand is interested in reports of:

  • Affected snapper from outside the east of Auckland and Northland areas
  • In finfish other than snapper.
  • If you find any suspected cases, freephone our pest and disease hotline on 0800 80 99 66.

If you have samples to submit, keep them chilled (refrigerated) but not frozen. Samples are best when they can be analysed with 24 hours.

What we are doing about the syndrome
Fisheries New Zealand has commissioned NIWA to undertake research alongside a regular catch sampling programme for commercially caught snapper off the north-east of the North Island (SNA 1). This is to help understand any seasonal patterns and areas where the syndrome is most prevalent.

Filleting tables (professional filleting stations for charter and recreational fishers) in the Hauraki Gulf are also being monitored.

This research will continue through until September 2023.
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Thanks for the update.
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Yep-just recently I caught a Kahawai with this jellified flesh but the fish was very slabby indicating a spent spawner or was just in need of a lot of good feeds. I did try to fillet it but i wouldn't have got a cup of fillet off it......cat tucker. It's a while since I've caught one but the flesh reminded me of red cod in texture. 
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Out today from Takapuna: brought back 4 in the 40-45 range, 1 milky, the other 3 not.  The milky one was also the last caught and not as chilled when filleted.

I might do a "blind tasting test" when we eat them and see if anyone notices anything.....
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (1) Likes(1)   Quote smudge Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Mar 2023 at 6:59pm
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Yes good update but no surprises there. Every skinny fish I think I've ever caught has been like that. The last year though there certainly do appear to be more snapper from the east side in the mix. I haven't seen any from the west this year but then again we release the skinny ones but I don't recall doing that this year so something is clearly amiss. Having said that I have definitely seen them in that condition in December & January. 

Out our side though it is common to see kahawai like that in February. From April on though it is rare to see a milky one. I don't think I've ever seen a milky looking gurnard from off the coast but over summer in the harbour they are very common. Never in winter. Ten or more years ago I won the kahawai section of the CSFC One Base with a 3.1kg kahawai. It was around 73cm long and as skinny as. I used it for bait and the flesh was soft white and mushy. It was after that I started noticing the condition of fish and yepp the skinny ones always had white mushy flesh. We've had big kahawai workups in the Manukau lately. The fish are just smashing the whitebait and anchovies as the feed up to put on condition after spawning which I believe is in January and February out here

Trevally are one of my favourites to catch but have never seen one with milky flesh, yet they seem to be showing up out east.

I've always felt that it is a post spawning condition, but I believe gurnard spawn at least twice a year. I catch them in spring and again in winter full of roe. The winter fish in the harbour appear to recover way better than when they spawn in spring. The water temp in the harbour gets up to 27 degrees in the shallows on a hot day so I'm sure that is part of the equation.

IMO it's all to do with suitable conditions and food source available post spawning but then I'm not a rocket doctor Big smile

I'd like to hear Craig Worthington's thoughts on the subject.


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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote brmbrm Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Mar 2023 at 7:12pm
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Is there a common opinion about eating qualities?  Still good?
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Originally posted by smudge smudge wrote:


Trevally are one of my favourites to catch but have never seen one with milky flesh, yet they seem to be showing up out east.




Do you know when trevally spawn?  I got 4 trevally on 1 day in spring last year, 3 of which were thin and had white flesh.
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Last lot fish we had were mint,Kahawai firm when splitting for smoker,snapper filleted well next day. No sign of milky flesh since before xmas. But we fish the the Firth .ponui/wilson bay/kaiaua
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Grunta Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Mar 2023 at 10:55am
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Originally posted by brmbrm brmbrm wrote:

Is there a common opinion about eating qualities?  Still good?
The flesh is almost jelly-like and I don't think anywhere near as good as a snapper in good nick.
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Originally posted by Grunta Grunta wrote:

Originally posted by brmbrm brmbrm wrote:

Is there a common opinion about eating qualities?  Still good?
The flesh is almost jelly-like and I don't think anywhere near as good as a snapper in good nick.
The milky ones we had,November,fish skinny and fillets fell apart. Starvation?? Those were from eastern side of Waiheke round towards Garden bay.
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I've seen lots fillets from snapper that were more opaque than others over the years/seasons, actually pretty common, but nothing like the one shown in the photo.
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Best the boffins have come up with is "environmental" as a cause - this could just mean the fish are starving and in that  prone to poor condition.... We shall see.
Very few fish caught in the shallows - less than 10m depth are like this.

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I don't think it's a new phenomenon, possibly just more prevalent this year for the reason hinted at - a lack of post-spawning food for some natural reason?
I remember having the odd white-fleshed snapper among our bin of fish from the post-Christmas Tamaki Strait flats fishery dating back to the early 2000s. I think they have a more of a pale golden appearance on the outside, rather than a vibrant reddish with blue dots, and skinnier.

My elderly dad's from the Depression and WWII era where you eat everything, so the soft whities were eaten. I have to say that pan fried, they don't taste odd - obviously the softness and colour doesn't bode well, but when I snuck some white pieces into our panko meal a couple of months ago (because 2-3 of my 5 fish turned out to be white on filleting, and I'd already offered our friends some fish and felt I couldn't give them the white fillets) my family didn't notice!!

What I haven't seen before this season, that I recall, was the number of fish in spring which had soft reddish/purplish almost circular patches on the outside of the skin - which I think I read was a bacterial issue NIWA had identified. I initially wondered if it was a sign of tussling with other fish during spawning, but that was a mistaken guess.
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I've caught snapper like this in Tauranga. Generally December and January. Depth has varied from 1m in the harbour to 20m in open water. Also have caught kahawai on the western side of Coromandel early winter in the same condition.
Both these dates coincide with post spawning. I'd put money on the findings of this study will be the fish are simply spent from lack of good nutritional food while all efforts are concentrated on spawning. I'm sure they make a speedy recovery back to condition afterwards. It's easy to check before killing the fish. Look at the fish from directly above and either side of the dorsal fin should be full and plump, not shrunken looking.
As for eating quality, cat food.
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote brmbrm Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Mar 2023 at 8:50pm
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Thinking about it, in the last 6 months or so I have caught snapper off Tutukaka: zero milky-flesh fish.  And off Auckland: occasional milky-flesh

I'll check fish condition more closely but no obvoius difference in the way they fight when hooked
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We went out on Sunday off Stanmore bay, picked up 10 and 2 or 3 were white fillets, they were the smaller ones, the larger ones were fine.

Been a lot of fresh water around this year with all the rain, wonder if the oxygen levels in the water are down.
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Just filleted some frozen snapper. The2 x 38cm were perfect,firm,but the 42cm was mush,all gutted before bringing home and have a mussel flavour to them. Rolled in panko crumbs ,cooked in butter. Hmm nice.
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Filleted 2 last night from Fridays outing. Both fish from same area .1 translucent the other soft/milky,both had crabs in cuts(gutted friday ) But guts smelt as gutted about 1hr after catching 45/50m mark      fish from 19m no issues, 36cm snapper
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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote brmbrm Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Mar 2023 at 2:40pm
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Photo from RNZ web site (https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/486867/snapper-in-hauraki-gulf-found-with-milky-white-flesh-syndrome-scientists-investigating).  Skinny fish alright



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Post Options Post Options   Likes (0) Likes(0)   Quote Far Quirk Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Mar 2023 at 2:45pm
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I've noticed that skinny fish are more likley to have milky flesh, so try to release them.  Sometimes they have "sunken shoulders" just above and behind the eyes.

As for bruising, I often see a lot of snapper with bruising on the lower side around spawning season.  I saw a video with male fish "butting" the females in the stomach to force out the eggs.  Anyone else have any info about this?  The bruises are generally about 30 to 40mm round, and red in the middle.
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