The wreckfish takes its name from its habit of clustering around floating wreckage. Large numbers of young wreckfish have been found just a few miles offshore, sheltering under drifting debris or mats of seaweed.
This species, although also called the stone bass, looks much more like the grouper than the traditional European bass. It has a bony head with a very distinctive high ridge on the gill covers. The stone-like, slate-grey colour and bulky build give it a boulder-like appearance.
The pectoral fin has 15 rays, and the anal fin 12, the first three bearing spines. The fish’s dorsal fin is long with 11 spines and 12 soft branched rays. The tail fin is broad and almost paddle-like.
A fierce predator, the wreckfish has a voracious appetite, using its powerful jaws and sharp conical teeth to engulf all forms of crustaceans and molluscs. Some fishermen from Devon once caught a 6 lAVo (2.9kg) wreckfish when it took a liking to a whole mackerel – intended for blue shark – on a size 12/0 hook.
A semi-tropical species, the wreckfish spawns in the Mediterranean between late January and early April. In this area the largest fish are caught from the sea bed. Indeed, the Gibraltar Angling Club’s record is for a mighty 95 lb (43.1kg) specimen.
It seems likely that the wreckfish occurring in British waters are juveniles, the young of these Mediterranean monsters. Adults lead a nomadic, bottom-living existence and are found at depths of 100-200m (330-660ft). There is even evidence that they can cope with the immense pressure found at over 900m (2950ft) deep.
So far the wreckfish has not been encountered by anglers fishing from the shore and the British record for this category is open with a qualifying weight of just 1lb (0.45kg). It has, however, been taken on conventional bottom fishing terminal rigs over rough ground off Devon and Cornwall.
Large numbers of wreckfish were captured off the south west coast of England in the first half of the 19th century. A report from 1824 claimed that a mahogany log, floating in Start Bay, Devon was surrounded by at least 100 of these fish.
It is possible that the North Atlantic Drift – the warm water current crossing the Atlantic and running along the west coasts of England and Ireland — came much closer in the first half of the last century.
Wreckfish did not occur again until the 1970s when fishermen reported an influx of them off the Cornish coast. Now, the increasing appearance of wreckfish in British waters suggests that the North Atalantic Drift has again moved in our favour/further warming British waters.