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Alex's Column 9 February 2024

There is no doubt that the golden snapper is the Top End’s iconic reef fish.

In the NT, it is a schooling fish that grows to upwards of 80cm, and fights damn hard when it is hooked.

For most people, this elegant species is all about its eating qualities; it is definitely a great table fish.

Golden snapper inhabit coastal reefs and estuaries right across northern Australia, with a habitat that extends to South East Asia.

Interestingly, it is only in the Northern Territory that it is called “golden snapper” or the shorter “goldie”.

The name “golden snapper” was officially declared for the species by NT Fisheries about 40 years ago.

It was a marketing ploy to increase its commercial demand and value in interstate markets.

However, in Queensland and Western Australia, it is called “fingermark” because it carries a dark spot on its lower back.

I once caught a big one in Singapore Harbour which the local anglers I was fishing with called it a “John’s snapper”, no doubt derived from the Latin name Lutjanus johnii.

If you’ve ever been on Singapore Harbour, you’ll understand why we didn’t eat that fish.

From what I can gather, the biggest golden snapper – like the 10kg fish pictured – inhabit north Queensland waters.

However, I never hear of schooling goldies in Queensland; whereas in our NT waters they are normally encountered schooling.

In fact, if you encounter a school, they will normally bite straight away on a tasty squid bait or a scented soft plastic.

However, if you hook a fish and it gets off, often the school will swim away.

In the NT, golden snapper are classed as an at-risk species and there is a bag limit of three per person.

Vessel limits are: with four or less people on board, each person can take his or her personal possession limit; with five to seven people on board, the limit is a maximum of four times the personal limit (so 16 fish); with eight or more people aboard, the maximum that can be kept is eight times the personal possession limit (so 32 fish).

In case you’re thinking you can always catch and release goldies so you can upgrade your fish, you need to appreciate that these great fish will likely suffer from barotrauma if they are caught in water deeper than 10m.

Barotrauma is physical damage to a fish’s body tissues caused by the difference in pressure between a gas space inside, or in contact with, the body and the surrounding gas or liquid.

Rip up a goldie from more than 10m depth and it’ll come up blowing tiny bubbles out the side of its body.

If you want to catch and release, fish in water less than 10m depth or pack up and move on when you’ve reached your bag limit.

Another Fisheries management measure to protect at-risk species like snapper is a network of reef fish protection areas.

Some of these protection areas protect known healthy stocks of reef fish, while others allow reefs that have been depleted by overfishing to recover.

The ones closest to Darwin are Charles Point Wide and Lorna Shoal.

Download the NT Fishing Mate app to see these protected areas as well as all the fishing rules and related information.

Queenslanders, in particular, are pretty adamant about their preference for the name “fingermark”.

I reckon the NT name “golden snapper” does much more justice to this magnificent reef fish.



AJ with a terrific golden snapper caught from Seven Spirit Bay.



Top Darwin angler, Jez Johnson, once lived in Cairns which is where he caught this gargantuan 10kg goldie.



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