Economically snapper has also been important. It was targeted unmercifully in the last part of the 20th Century by trawlers and longliners, the latter to service the Japanese market in particular. Stocks took a hammering as the commercial sector chased the last snapper dollar.
Fortunately the government introduced the Quota Management System (QMS), which – using catch history and stock assessment – set maximum commercial-take levels (TACC – Total Allowable Commercial Catch). While the QMS has been lauded internationally, it is far from perfect; however, it does go a long way towards ensuring there are at least some fish available to recreational anglers – otherwise a publication such as this would be unnecessary!
There has probably more been written about snapper than any other New Zealand recreational angling species. Around half the cover shots of magazines, such as New Zealand Fishing News, feature snapper and any fishing writer worth his berley has produced a book on catching this iconic species.
For anglers in many parts of the country, especially in the top half of the North Island, snapper can be caught all year round. In spring and early summer snapper school up in preparation for spawning and can be caught easily as they migrate from the deeper rocky foul, where they have spent winter, to shallower sandy-muddy areas where they procreate.
Having done the wild thing, snapper then disperse to the channels and rocky outcrops of our harbours, gulfs and exposed shorelines, where they are easily accessible to small-boat and land-based anglers alike. While to catch a ‘20-pounder’ is the life-long ambition of many snapper anglers, these are not the best table fish, so they are better photographed and returned unharmed where they can continue to contribute to the snapper gene pool.
Fish often described as ‘pannies’ – anything from 2-3kg – are the perfect eaters, especially when in prime condition in late summer. They offer a thick, juicy fillet and are an ideal size to be scaled and baked whole. This size is also perfect for the portable Kilwell 15-minute ‘hot’ smokers; their high fat content makes them a tasty morsel when prepared this way.
The flesh of the bigger fish, in the 7kg and above bracket, tends to be a little more coarse in texture and is best cold-smoked.