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What is a Morwong?

By Jennifer J.
Updated May 21, 2024
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A morwong a type of fish that belongs to the order perciformes, which means "perch-like." These ocean-dwellers make up the family Cheilodactylidae, which contains 18 species of fish divided into five genera: Cheilodactylus, Chirodactylus, Dactylophora, Goniistius, and Nemadactylus. Other names for the morwong include butterfish, fingerfin, jackassfish, and moki. They are sometimes known as snappers, but this is a misnomer, as snappers make up an entirely separate family of fish called the Lutjanidae.

This type of fish has one single, continuous dorsal fin that contains 14 to 22 spines, and an anal fin that usually contains three spines. They can reach up to 3.28 feet (1 m) in length and 2.64 pounds (1.2 kg) in weight. They are sometimes characterized by a comical appearance, which is due to their small mouths and thick lips. Some species can also have bony protrusions above their eyes. Coloring can range from reddish-orange and white, to silvery blue, to brownish, depending on the species.

Morwongs are typically found in the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Australian waters, but they have also been known to inhabit the oceans near Japan, China, and the Hawaiian Islands. They thrive in tropical to temperate waters and prefer areas close to the shore. They often dwell in areas with reefs because they hide in small holes at night and frequently lay their eggs in beds of sea grass.

Small invertebrates that dwell on the ocean floor are the primary food source for morwongs. Their diet can include crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms. When feeding, they use their large lips to scoop up sea-floor sediments into their mouths and then filter out their prey.

Some species of morwongs are harvested as food by both commercial and recreational fishers. Around 1915, commercial fishing for morwong first began in earnest through the use of demersal otter trawls, the most common capture tool. They are sold whole or as fish filets in domestic fish markets and are said to have only a mild fishy flavor with medium to firm texture.

When fishing for morwong recreationally, anglers may find it best to drift over a reef area, because they are solitary hunters and do not feed in schools. Bait can include bits of fish, prawns, and squid, and should be firmly attached to the hook because morwongs like to suck at their food. Anglers should be prepared to struggle when the morwong bites, because they are tough fish that can put up quite a fight.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Morwong?

A Morwong, belonging to the family Cheilodactylidae or Latridae, is a marine fish commonly found in the coastal waters of Australia and New Zealand. These fish are known for their distinctively long, compressed bodies and small mouths, often inhabiting rocky reefs and feeding on invertebrates and algae.

How many species of Morwong are there?

There are approximately 20 recognized species of Morwong. These species vary in size, color, and habitat preferences, with some like the Blue Morwong being particularly popular among recreational fishers for their fighting spirit and table quality.

What do Morwongs eat?

Morwongs are omnivorous, with a diet that includes a variety of invertebrates such as mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms. They also consume seaweed and other plant materials. Their feeding habits contribute to the ecological balance of their reef habitats by controlling invertebrate populations and aiding in algal growth regulation.

Are Morwongs good to eat?

Yes, Morwongs are considered good to eat, with a firm, white flesh that is well-regarded by chefs and seafood enthusiasts. The flavor is mild and slightly sweet, making it versatile for various cooking methods, including grilling, frying, and baking. However, the quality can vary among species, so some are more sought after than others.

Where can you find Morwongs?

Morwongs are predominantly found in the temperate waters of the southern hemisphere, especially around Australia and New Zealand. They are reef dwellers, often spotted around rocky outcrops, kelp beds, and sometimes in sandy areas adjacent to these structures, at depths ranging from shallow waters to over 100 meters.

Are Morwongs endangered?

Most Morwong species are not currently classified as endangered. However, their populations can be affected by overfishing, habitat destruction, and changes in marine environments. Fisheries management and conservation efforts are in place in some regions to ensure sustainable populations, such as size limits and protected areas.

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