Frostfish – Lepidopus caudatus – sometimes found on beaches

Frostfish caught in the Bay of Plenty. Photograph by Andrew Padlie.
Frostfish - Lepidopus caudatus. Frostfish caught in the Bay of Plenty. Photograph by Andrew Padlie.

Frostfish – Lepidopus caudatus

Other names for frostfish: para-taharangi.

At first glance, the frostfish appears to be a thin-looking barracouta. Indeed the two species share several common features: both are devoid of scales, have a mouth full of long sharp teeth, and are silver in colour. Both the barracouta and the frostfish are mid-water hunters preying on squid and small baitfish. They are however unrelated. The frostfish is generally a deepwater species. The skin, like that of the barracouta, is easily damaged if a captured specimen is roughly handled. The skin rubs off easily. When first caught the flanks shine like polished chrome with an iridescent cobalt blue shimmer along the upper body.

The frostfish is much thinner than the barracouta having a more laterally compressed body. It is also longer with an average specimen measuring up to 1.5 metres. The body tapers toward the small tail to give an eel-like profile. The dorsal fin runs the full length of the fish. I have seen several specimens both caught off the Banks Peninsula by accident. The frostfish appears quite flimsy being thin in profile for its height and yet surprisingly long, whereas the similar-looking barracouta is a much more robust fish by comparison.

Frostfish are occasionally caught by Canterbury anglers fishing the deepsea Pegasus Canyon. This species has long been known to strand itself on gently sloping sandy beaches on calm frosty nights; hence it’s named. The late David H. Graham in his excellent book A Treasury of New Zealand Fishes talks of an incident when out in a rowing boat on Ohiwa Harbour, Bay of Plenty, when a frostfish was seen to swim ashore. They secured the stranded fish from the beach, rowed back out into mid-channel 100 yards distant and released it. The suicidal fish promptly beached itself again. This happened twice. Eventually, they kept and ate the fish. Frostfish are also known to carry out this odd behaviour on sunny days!

They are also known to be occasionally washed ashore on New Brighton Beach, Christchurch, during cold winter nights. Such specimens can be taken home and eaten by early morning beach walkers going for a stroll provided they are not beaten to the free meal by seagulls!

This species is found all around New Zealand but usually out in deepwater between 200m and 500m. Although anglers occasionally catch them when fishing baited hooks in deep water it is rare to catch one and they are not targeted at all.

The frostfish is excellent eating having a fine white delicate flesh. Cook by either filleting or cutting into sections which can then be cooked in butter like flounder.

Frostfish - Lepidopus caudatus
Frostfish – Lepidopus caudatus.

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