This distinctive fish has a deep, diamond-shaped body that varies in colour from light brown to green or grey with blue or violet reflections on its back. Its small mouth and large fleshy lips conceal a set of powerful jaws filled with strong teeth which it uses to crush crabs and shellfish.
It has a high, rough-edged spine at the front of its first dorsal fin and very long rays on its broad tail fin.
The trigger’s anal fin and rear dorsal fin are similar in size and shape. It swims by moving these large fins in an undulating motion which, although graceful, does not make it a particularly powerful swimmer.
This apparent lack of power is something-many anglers would question, though. A trigger almost always puts up an extremely lively fight once it takes a bait – regardless of whether or not the bait was intended for the trigger in the first place.
Along with its reputation for being a good fighting fish, it also makes a tasty meal -but this is only after you have spent a couple of hours stripping the flesh from the bone.
Trigger fish spawn in the Mediterranean during the summer, when the female digs out a hollow nest in the sand. The adults then share the task of guarding and fanning the eggs (to keep them well aerated) until they hatch a few days later.
In recent years the fish has appeared in increasing numbers along the southern coast of Britain. Mostly occurring from June to late October, its British range stretches from the western English Channel as far east as the coast of Brighton.
Although it is prized for its sporting value, some anglers are beginning to fear it may become Britain’s piranha. During the summers of 1989 and 1992 hordes of trigger fish invaded the rocky waters just off Weymouth, Portland Bill and Chesil Beach on Britain’s south-west coast. Large shoals have also appeared five to ten miles offshore, gnawing at shark baits.
The trigger’s appetite for a wide range of marine life, coupled with its craving for crustaceans, means it is now being regarded as a sea bait nuisance and a possible threat to our native sea fish. Adults feed on crustaceans – particularly small crabs — and molluscs and are often hooked on marine worms. Where it occurs – literally in its thousands – around the Azores, the fish’s gluttonous habits has led to it being dubbed ‘pig fish’ by local fishermen.
Since trigger fish weighing up to 15 lb (6.8kg) have been caught in warmer seas -and they are the same species that appear in British waters – there is some scope for an improvement in the British Record (4 lb 13oz 7dm/2.198kg). Both weights and numbers of fish taken in British waters have shown a steady but unspectacular increase. It first appeared on the BRFC List in 1975 with a boat record of 4 lb 9oz 5dm (2.077kg) off Weymouth. The shore record was then declared open at 2 lb (0.9kg), but within a year this space was filled by a 4 lb 6oz (2kg) trigger taken from Bossington Beach in Somerset.