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Learn How to Identify Fish with Aki

By Marla Lise

Aki started fishing when he was a kid in Japan, growing up with fisher-family members. His grandfather worked as a commercial fisherman and his father with fishing lines. Aki has been working as a bartender here in Singapore for the last 15 years and is upset by the decrease that he sees in fish populations around the world. He heard about Marine Stewards and decided that he wanted to do something to help with marine conservation. Here at Marine Stewards, Aki is helping with the fish ID cards. He is also hoping to roll out version 2, which has many more species identification notes, later this year.

According to this identification aficionado, the most important things to look out for when identifying a fish are its tail, fins, shape, the shape of jaw and mouth, colour, teeth, and shape of gills or scales – although this last one is maybe a little more difficult for the average angler. Many times, anglers get confused, thinking that one fish species is actually another or even catching two species of fish and thinking they are one and the same. His example is that of the Orange Spotted Grouper, Malabar Grouper and the Dusky Grouper – which are commonly mistaken for all being the same species. The Orange Spotted grouper is a huge species with orange dots on its skin. The Malabar Grouper however, is slightly smaller and has a narrower head compared to the Spotted Grouper and has black dots instead of orange ones. The Dusky Tailed Grouper looks exactly the same as the Orange Spotted Grouper, but their tails have a different shape.

So why is it important then, that we know which Grouper is which. Well, because of their vulnerability. Knowing which species is in an endangered or critical state is important. The Malabar Grouper for example, takes the most time to grow and therefore is more endangered. Another reason that we need to identify the species of fish correctly is because different species mature at different sizes. Therefore, if you were to incorrectly identify the species of fish, thinking that this was an adult and therefore permissible to catch, you may be wrong. The fish ID cards give the correct sizes of different species of fish, making it clear which ones should be released.

There are however, some species that can be caught at any size. These are invasive, pest species like the Hybrid Grouper that is found in Singapore waters. They look like a combination of the other Groupers, with tiger stripes and a more yellow colour. These farm bred non-native fish feed on native species aggressively and therefore reduce numbers of other species, putting the ecosystems in an imbalance. They are usually found close to seawalls, shores and rocky places and are good eating.

Some fish, like the Coral Trout, may be difficult to identify because they change colour when they are out of the water. Others like the Sweet Lips and African Pampano, look completely different when they are juveniles compared to the adults of the species.

So, proper fish identification is important if we want to continue the sustainability of our marine ecosystems. Be responsible and be clear of what species you catch and make sure they are the correct size and from a species that is not vulnerable.


About Marine Stewards

Marine Stewards is a non-profit whose mission is to promote a healthy fishing culture through sustainable fishing guidelines, education, and outreach.

Volunteer: We welcome all volunteers, email

About the author:

Marla is an ocean lover with a passion for marine conservation

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