Saury – Scomberesox saurus – found around northern New Zealand

Saury - Scomberesox saurus (NZ) - Saury, 1876, New Zealand, by Frank Edward Clarke. Purchased 1921. Te Papa (1992-0035-2278/37).
Saury - Scomberesox saurus (NZ) - Saury, 1876, New Zealand, by Frank Edward Clarke. Purchased 1921. Te Papa (1992-0035-2278/37).

Saury – Scomberesox saurus – Not usually encountered by New Zealand anglers

Other names: sauries, skippers, sanma, ocean piper, needlefish

The saury is an elongated fish laterally compressed with a small mouth similar in appearance to the garfish. Though, unlike garfish the lower jaw is only slightly shorter. In juvenile sauries both the upper and lower jaws are shorter. As the fish grows the jaws elongate to form the characteristic long beak. 

Their colouration is almost identical to piper being blue/green on the back, and bright silver on the flanks and undersides. It also differs from the garfish in that there are a series of small finlets between the dorsal and anal fins. 

The average length is between 25 and 35 cm. Can reach up to 45 cm and weigh up to 200 grams. 

What does saury feed on? 

This species have small mouths and feed on zooplankton along with krill, shrimps, fish eggs and larvae which they take near the surface of the ocean.     

Though widespread around the world there are only a few members of the family Scomberesocidae some of which are found in northern New Zealand waters. Found in subtropical waters at temperatures between 15 – 18 °C. They are a highly migratory oceanic species that are almost always found in the top metre of the ocean regardless of water depth. Though they have on occasion been caught in trawler nets at depths of 200 m.  

They are chased and eaten by a range of oceanic predators including marlin, tunas, and Mahi-mahi. They are also an important food resource for oceanic seabirds Saury at the Three Kings Islands. There are various slender saltwater fishing lures sold in New Zealand that represent sauries that are used as casting plugs and trolling lures. 

What does saury taste like?

This is a semi-oily fish well suited to canning. It has a fatty rich taste similar to mackerel. Saury is often gutted and cooked whole over a charcoal grill and eaten by scraping the flesh from the bones doing away with the need to fillet them. Can be eaten raw in sushi but must be very fresh. Saury are a popular seasonal fish in Asia, particular in Japan. According to Wikipedia around 1950, Japan once caught about 98% of the world’s catch of Pacific saury. This very high percentage has since declined with the species now being caught in greater numbers by other countries.

How to catch sauries

In Asia, saury is caught commercially with a pre-sunken net which is raised when the fish swim over it after being attracted by powerful lights at night. They are scooped from the large net with stick-held dip nets. I have not seen anything anywhere about catching saury on rod and line. Though I would imagine they could be caught in a similar fashion to garfish by use of a bread berley and small surface baits. However, this would be unlikely as they are an oceanic species found well offshore in the deep ocean where such a method would be impractical.

If you were fishing from a launch in northern New Zealand waters it might well be possible to shine a powerful light on the water at night, and perhaps with bread berley tossed on the water surface, and catch them for bait or for dinner with a casting net.

Saury sold as bait

Saury are imported into other countries including New Zealand where it is sold as frozen fish bait. They are used to bait hooks in a similar way to pilchards and are said to make very good snapper bait. They don’t appear to be sold here as bait to the extent they once were.  

Pacific Saury or Sanma - Cololabis saira belonging to the same family Scomberesocidae.
Pacific Saury or Sanma – Cololabis saira belongs to the same family Scomberesocidae.

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