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South Australia - Harlequin Fish (Othos dentex)
Verity Bone , MESA SA Rep

The Harlequin fish is endemic to Australia, it is only found in the waters of southern Australia, extending from the central coast of Victoria to south-western Australia. Harlequin fish inhabit exposed coastal rocky reefs and reef drop offs to 30 metres in depth. They grow to a length of 75 cm and can weigh in excess of 3 kg. Harlequin fish feed on numerous species of small fish as well as abalone.

Fact: Harlequin Fish are in the same family (Serranidae) as groupers!

Harlequin fish are brightly coloured with stunning pattens. Their background colours can be red, orange, yellow or brown with blue spots on their sides and head.

Unfortunately these striking fish are a prized ‘trophy fish’ for fishing competitions and presently there are no restrictions on size, bag or boat limits for this species. This is thought to be one of many factors resulting in the decline of the population. Inhabiting coastal reefs also makes the Harlequin fish susceptible to habitat degradation from land based pollution including sediment run off causing siltation of the reef.

Harlequin Fish
Image courtesy David Muirhead

Historically the Harlequin Fish has been recorded in Victorian waters however there have been no sightings of Harlequin fish over recent years indicating that perhaps the population is already extinct in Victorian waters.

How you can help the Harlequin Fish?

  • If caught return Harlequin fish to the water immediately
  • If you see a harlequin fish while diving report all sightings to Reef Watch ( who collect data through their ‘feral or in peril’ program
  • Visit the MESA website to find out how you can assist in reducing land based pollution affecting our marine environment.
  • Visit the Conservation Council of South Australia’s website ( and discover how you can support their efforts for the Harlequin fish to be given the protection status of a ‘threatened’ species.

Harlequin Fish
Image courtesy MLSSA

Information used to compile this fact sheet was drawn from:
Baker, J.L. (2007 in prep.) Status of Marine Species at Risk in South Australia: Technical Report - Bony and Cartilaginous Fish.


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