Harlequin Fish

Harlequin Fish

The Harlequin Fish (Othos dentex) is a southern Australian endemic with a limited geographic distribution (S.A. and W.A.), and a limited known depth range.

It is a site-associated on coastal reefs, over a narrow depth range, and has vulnerable population characteristics, similar to other species in the Serranidae family. Although there is a paucity of quantitative information about population sizes, it is likely that the relative abundance of this species in South Australia is much lower than in Western Australia.

There is concern that abundance may have declined over time in areas where water quality is reduced, and reefs are degraded. Harlequin Fish are caught by recreational fishermen, guests of charter fishing trips and (to a lesser extent) by commercial operators across its range by a number of methods. 

Few controls are placed on its capture, particularly in South Australia, and no investigation of the potential impacts of fishing has been undertaken.



  1. Ron Bellchambers (Jamestown SA)
    July 11, 2014

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    I have been lucky in the past to have seen the Harlequin Fish around the bottom reefs of Yorke Peninsula, unfortunately this was a long time ago. This fish was once prized by Spearfishermen but was cut from all competition’s due to trying to protect this species of beautiful fish.

  2. Dave Muirhead
    January 15, 2016

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    Harlequin Fish should undoubtedly receive full protection in all SA waters,as an urgent,obvious agenda and full protection would or should be so simple to achieve in legislative terms, yet that inertia we so often observe among our ‘top order legislators’ seems as resistive today as it’s seemed for decades. Ditto for our iconic site-associated Western Blue Groper,which must by any scientific assessment or criteria stand out as a key candidate for blanket protection.
    Why are these two species not yet fully protected in SA?When I boil it down to the essence, I can think of only 2 realistic reasons:either there is vested interest by certain groups in our community against full protection,or there is insufficient public awareness of these fishes’ plight to spur our political representatives into action ie ‘not enough votes in it’.

  3. Mark
    January 12, 2018

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    Recently caught 3 large harlequin whilst snapper fishing in 25 metres near Cape Jervis SA, all returned. Estimate largest to be 40-45cm.

  4. Jenny Berry
    April 6, 2018

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    I’d love to see some more photos of this species! I’m an artist in Adelaide who specialises in marine life paintings. Feel free to email any photos to mjktberry@bigpond.com or find me on Facebook Jenny Berry Artist. Thanks!

  5. Greg Pickering
    August 22, 2018

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    I would think the Harlequin worthy of some form of protection. Current bag limit of 6 per boat is ill considered.They are far rarer than the Blue Groper Blue Groper are very common on the west coast of SA where I have worked as an abalone diver over 40 years..

  6. Simon Ozzie
    April 2, 2020

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    Hi all I was surfing yesterday at triggs near Port Noarlunga and stepped on one of these fish as I was walking in.

    It freaked out and bit me on the leg through my wetsuit, I have deep cuts and a photo to prove this. I thought it was a small bronze whaler but the teeth were super sharp i hit it with my hand it was red in colour about 40cm long.

    Can anyone advise if it is poisonous and lucky for me it was a Harlequin fish and not something bigger !!!

    • Steve Reynolds
      April 4, 2020

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      Thanks for this report Simon. We hope that your cuts heal quickly. We haven’t heard about the Harlequin Fish being poisonous in any way. They are, however, very toothy.

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