Redbait is an oily, strong-flavoured fish so strong-flavoured ingredients are recommended.


image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished


image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished


Scientific name: Emmelichthys nitidus

Family: Emmelichthyidae

Other names: Pearl fish, picarel, red baitfish, red herring, southern rover, Cape bonnetmouth

Description: Redbait have slender reddish pink bodies, with a darker bluish-grey back and a silvery white belly. The first 9‑10 spines of the dorsal fin are connected by membrane, and are followed by two or three short isolated spines. The pectoral fins are rounded and the caudal fin is forked. The fins are pinkish.

Size (length and weight): Up to 50 cm in length.

Life span: Up to about 8‑10 years.

Habitat: Redbait are a widespread pelagic species that occurs in association with seamounts, mid-oceanic ridges and continental shelfs in the southwest Atlantic, Indian and south Pacific Oceans. They can be found at depths of 20‑500 metres. Redbait form schools by size and by depth. Juveniles tend to occur near the surface while adults are found in deeper water closure to the sea floor. Adults move up into the water column at night.

Prey: Large planktonic crustaceans, cephalopods and small fish.

Predators: Seals, seabirds and tunas.

Reproduction: Redbait reach reproductive maturity at 2‑4 years of age depending on region. Males mature slightly before females. Spawning occurs over 2‑3 months during spring. Redbait are serial spawners, with eggs being released about every three days during the spawning season. Females produce 11 000‑27 000 eggs per spawning event depending on their body size. Spawning occurs mostly at night. The eggs are positively buoyant and hatch 2‑4 days after fertilisation depending on temperature.

Other: The Indo-Pacific population (including Australian stocks) is further identified as Emmelichthys nitidus nitidus. The eastern Pacific population is Emmelichthys nitidus cyanescens.


Fishery found inGear usedCatch of species is targeted or incidental
Small Pelagic FisheryMidwater trawl and purse seineTargeted
Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery – Commonwealth Trawl SectorMidwater trawlIncidental
Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery – Great Australian Bight Trawl SectorMidwater trawlIncidental

Management of catch

The Commonwealth catch of redbait is managed by quota, meaning that the catch of this fish by commercial fishers is restricted by weight.

Commercial fishermen are required to fill in records of their catches, during each fishing trip and when they land their catch in a port. This helps us keep records of how much is being caught.

AFMA decide on the amount that can be caught each year from expert advice and recommendations from fisheries managers, industry members, scientist and researchers.

Area caught

Redbait is found from mid New South Wales to south-west Western Australia, including Tasmania. Fishing for redbait in the Small Pelagic Fishery focuses in the area of waters off south-east New South Wales, eastern Tasmania and South Australia.

Redbait are mostly fished by boats operating midwater trawl fishing gear in depths between 100-400 metres.



Fishing gear and environmental impacts

Fishers use purse seine nets and trawl nets to catch redbait.

The purse seine method of fishing is very selective as it usually targets only one species at a time. This means that there is very little impact from purse seine fishing on other marine species. Purse seine nets are set near the ocean surface and do not touch the seafloor, so their impact on the marine environment is also very small.

Midwater trawl gear has minimal impact on the environment primarily because it does not come into contact with the seabed.

Sometimes, midwater trawling can catch unwanted species of fish (not the type of fish the net was supposed to catch). This is known as bycatch and it is monitored by on-board fishery observers who assess the environmental impact of the trawling.

AFMA carries out ecological risk assessments (ERA) for all of its major fisheries which assess the impact of fishing on bycatch species and habitats. AFMA reduces any impacts through a number of management arrangements and strategies detailed in its ecological risk management (ERM) strategy. These assessments indicate that fishing for redbait is highly selective and has low rates of bycatch. However there are measures in place to minimise impacts on threatened, endangered and protected species including compulsory seal excluder devices and vessel management plans.

Want to know more?

This is just an overview of redbait, if you want to know more see the links below:

Sustainability – see the most recent Fishery status report

Management – this fish is managed under the Small Pelagic Fishery

Data – Download raw data on annual catches from AFMA catch disposal records and AFMA daily fishing logbooks

Expert adviceSmall Pelagic Resource Assessment Group and the South East Management Advisory Committee

Environmental impacts – Bycatch and discard program