BREAM: Eastern Black & Southern Pikey
Sci: Acanthopagrus australis, A. butcherii and A. berda
Common Names: This vitally important family of angling fish is represented in Australian waters by several species, of which the three discussed here are best known. Referred to simply as "bream" by most anglers, they are also known as eastern black bream (A. australis), black bream (A. australis and A. butcherii), southern bream (A. butcherii) or silver bream. The eastern black bream is also be referred to as yellowfin bream at times, although this name more correctly belongs to a closely related, but less prolific, fish of Western Australian waters (A. latus). Very large bream of all species often exhibit a bluish tinge around the nose and upper jaw area, which earns them the nickname of "blue-nose bream".
Description: All three bream species under discussion here are deep-bodied, laterally-compressed fish with moderately large scales, a forked tail and a smallish mouth lined with strong, peg-like teeth. The colouration of each species varies considerably, depending upon it's habitat. Bream living in upper tidal estuaries or land-locked lagoons are often very dark - almost black - on the back and bronze or gold on the flanks. At the opposite extreme, bream taken from the surf, ocean rocks or lower estuaries are usually bright silver. The eastern black bream's pelvic and anal fins are often yellowish to bright yellow. This bream's tail is typically dusky-yellow with a black trailing edge. There is usually a small black blotch at the base of each pectoral fin, and this may also be evident on southern bream at times. In contrast, the pikey bream is generally much darker in hue than either the eastern black or southern variety, and its lips may also be thick and rubbery at times.
Size: Most bream landed by recreational anglers weigh between 0.2 and 1.2 kilos. Specimens over that weight are prize catches. An occasional specimen may top 2 kilos, and records for the species stand at weights in excess of 4 kilos. The eastern and southern species generally grow larger than the pikey bream of tropical waters.
Distribution: The eastern black bream's range extends
from about Townsville or Cairns, in northern Queensland,
southwards through New South Wales waters to about Lakes
Entrance in eastern Victoria, where the range of this fish
overlaps with that of the southern black bream. The southern
bream is primarily an estuary, lake and river dwelling fish,
ranging from the far south coast of New South Wales (rarely
north of Merimbula) to about Geraldton in Western Australia.
It is also found in the tidal rivers of Tasmania, the Bass
Strait islands and on Kangaroo Island. Pikey bream are a
northern species, ranging from central northern Queensland
to about Exmouth, in Western Australia. All three bream
species occupy a wide range of environmental niches; from
the freshwater reaches of rivers well above the upper tidal
limits, down through the estuaries and into harbours, inlets,
bays and tidal lakes. Eastern black bream also range extensively
along ocean surf beaches, rocky shorelines and into offshore
waters, although the other two species are mostly confined
to the estuaries.
Fishing Techniques: The most productive techniques for taking bream in estuaries, bays and harbours are based around the use of light, sensitive tackle and live or fresh baits of marine worms, shellfish, yabbies (nippers), crabs, prawns or small bait fish species. Bream also succumb to an array of less conventional offerings such as bullock's heart, tripe, steak, chicken intestines and various 'pudding' mixtures of flour, water, cheese, tinned sardines and the like. Estuary and river-dwelling bream of all three species are also taken with reasonable consistency on small lures and flies, often by anglers targeting other species such as flathead or tailor. In New South Wales and southern Queensland, surf, rock and inshore boat anglers target eastern black bream using the same range of baits as estuary anglers, as well as whole and cut pilchards, fish fillets, strips and cubes. All three species also respond well to the use of berley.
Eating Qualities: Bream are a much prized and highly rated food fish, although some people would argue they are somewhat over-rated in this department. Bream from lower estuaries, harbours and the open ocean have moist, while flesh with a clean, sweet flavour. Upper estuary or freshwater dwelling fish often exhibit slightly softer flesh, and can have a slightly weedy or muddy taint at times.