Barracouta, Thyrsites atun (Euphrasén 1791)

Other Names: Couta, Manga, Pick-handle, Snoek

A Barracouta, Thyrsites atun, just of South Chanel Forte, Port Phillip, Victoria, May 2017. Source: dhaintz / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial


A long slender strongly compressed fish with a steely-blue back becoming silvery below, a black blotch at the front of the dorsal fin, and a single lateral line that runs along the back below the dorsal-fin base before abruptly curving ventrally. These voracious predators have long fang-like teeth and often form large schools. 

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Schultz, S. 2020, Thyrsites atun in Fishes of Australia, accessed 28 May 2024,

Barracouta, Thyrsites atun (Euphrasén 1791)

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Widespread in southern Australia from Moreton Bay, Queensland, to Shark Bay, Western Australia, including Tasmania. Elsewhere the species is circumglobal in the Southern Hemisphere.

When inshore, inhabits near surface waters, and sometimes enters open bays and estuaries.


Dorsal fin XIX-XXI, 0, 0, 11-13; Anal fin I, 10-12; Pectoral fin 13-14; Pelvic fin I, 5;Second dorsal and anal fins followed by 5-7 finlets; Lateral line 175-185.

Body fairly elongate and considerably compressed. Body depth 7.5-9.2 times into standard length. Head length 3.8-4.2 times into standard length. Lower jaw protrudes, both jaws without dermal processes. Several pairs of fang-like teeth in upper jaw. Palatine and vomerine teeth present. Single lateral line, running close to dorsal contour below first dorsal fin base, then curving abruptly towards ventral profile.


To 150 cm and 6 kg in other parts of the world. Australian populations reach 90 cm and an age of 11 years.


Body dark blue, slightly paler on belly; first dorsal-fin membrane black.


An opportunistic feeder, the diet of this species varies in time and with location. Due to the size of the schools and voracious feeding habits, Barracouta are an important predator of many smaller commercially exploited species such as Pilchards and Jack Mackerel. 

In Bass Strait the Barracouta feed on krill, Nyctiphanes australis, which they swallow in large numbers when the schools of the crustacean are dense. Other important prey species include small fishes such as the Anchovy Engraulis australis and squids. In other regions, pilchards and jack mackerel comprise much of the diet.


Different stocks of Barracouta spawn at different times throughout the year. The southern New South Wales and Victorian stock appears to spawn mainly in late winter. The larvae and eggs are pelagic.

This species appears to prefer water temperatures between 13 to 18 degrees. It forms large schools, which feed, migrate and spawn together. A fast growing species early in its life, it reaches almost 30 cm in length after the first year and 58 cm after three years.


Barracouta were the focus of early fisheries along the Victorian and Tasmanian coasts. During the Second World War and the 1950's, they were ranked equally with mullet in the sheer magnitude of catches. "Barracouta was the only species in Australia which made a substantial contribution to the war-time demand for more fish" (Blackburn 1950). In the late 1940's catches reached 13 thousand tonnes per annum. Once widely used for canning and the fish and chip trade, this species is now less popular and is fished at much lower levels.



The name Leionura atun, used in many early publications appears to be valid, as the generic name Thyrsites Cuvier 1832 (with Scomber atun Euphrasen 1791 as the type species of the genus) is unavailable as it is a homonym of Thyrsites Lesson 1831 (see the Catalog of Fishes).

Similar Species

Barracouta have a single lateral line, unlike Gemfish, Rexea solandri, which has a forked lateral line.

Species Citation

Scomber atun Euphrasén 1791, Kongliga Vetenskaps Akademiens nya Handlingar, Stockholm 12(for 1791): 315. Type locality: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.


Bray, D.J. & Schultz, S. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Barracouta, Thyrsites atun (Euphrasén 1791)


Allan, R. 2002. Australian Fish and How to Catch Them. Sydney : New Holland Publishers (Australia) 394 pp.

Blackburn, M. 1950. The Condition of the Fishery for Barracouta, Thyrsites atun (Euphrasen), in Australian Waters. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 1(1): 110-128.

Blackburn, M. & Gartner, P.E. 1954. Populations of Barrracouta, Thyrsites atun (Euphrasen), in Australian waters. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 5(3): 411-468.

Blackburn, M. 1957. The relationship between the food of the Australian Barracouta, Thyrsites atun (Euphrasen), and recent fluctuations in the fishery. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 8(1): 29-54.

Gomon, M.F. 2008. Families Sphyraenidae to Centrolophidae. pp. 774-800 in Gomon, M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp. 

Grant, E.M. 1991. Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : EM Grant Pty Ltd 480 pp. 

Grant, C.J., Cowper, T.R. & Reid, D.D. 1978. Age and growth of snoek, Leionura atun (Euphrasen), in south-eastern Australian waters. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 29: 435-444.

Hall, D.N. & MacDonald, C.M. 1986. Commercial fishery situation report: net and line fisheries of Port Phillip Bay Victoria, 1914-1984. Victoria Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, Fisheries Division, Marine Fisheries Report 10, 121 pp.

Horn, P.L. 2003. Age estimation of barracouta (Thyrsites atun) off southern New Zealand.  Marine and Freshwater Research 53(8) 1169 - 1178.

Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

Hutchins, J.B. & Thompson, M. 1983. The Marine and Estuarine Fishes of South-western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 103 pp. 345 figs. (as Leionura atun)

Kailola, P.J., Williams, M.J., Stewart, P.C., Reichelt, R.E., McNee, A. & Grieve, C. 1993. Australian Fisheries Resources. Canberra : Bureau of Resource Sciences and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation 422 pp. 

May, J.L. & Maxwell, J.G.H. 1986. Field Guide to Trawl Fish from Temperate Waters of Australia. Hobart : CSIRO Division of Marine Research 492 pp. 

Mehl, J.A.P.  1971. Spawning and length-weight of Barracouta (Teleostei: Gempylidae) from eastern Cook Strait. N.Z. Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 5 (2): 300-17.

Munro, I.S.R. 1961. Handbook of Australian fishes. Nos 1–42. Australian Fisheries Newsletter 15–17, 19, 20: 1-172 [published as separates 1956–1961]  (767, as Leionura atun)

Nakamura, I. & Parin, N.V. 1993. FAO Species Catalogue. Snake mackerels and cutlassfishes of the world (families Gempylidae and Trichiuridae). An annotated and illustrated catalogue of the Snake Mackerels, Snoeks, Escolars, Gemfishes, Sackfishes, Domine, Oilfish, Cutlassfishes, Scabbardfishes, Hairtails, and Frostfishes known to date. Fisheries Synopsis No. 125, Vol. 15. Rome : FAO 136 pp. 200 figs. 

Nakamura, I. & Parin, N.V. 2001. Gempylidae, Trichiuridae. pp. 3698-3720 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 6 pp. 3381-4218.

Neira, F.J., Miskiewicz, A.G. & Trnski, T. 1998. Larvae of temperate Australian fishes: laboratory guide for larval fish identification. Nedlands, Western Australia : University of Western Australia press 474 pp.

O'Driscoll, R.L. 1998. Feeding and schooling behaviour of barracouta (Thyrsites atun) off Otago, New Zealand. Marine and Freshwater Research 49: 19-24.

Richardson, J. 1839. Account of a collection of fishes from Port Arthur, Van Diemen's Land. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 7: 95-100 (described as Thyrsites altivelis) See ref at BHL

Roughley, T.C. 1957. Fish and Fisheries of Australia. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 341 pp. 

Stewart, A.L. 2015. 230 Family Gempylidae. pp. 1602-1615 in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. (eds). The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 4 pp. 1153-1748.

Whitley, G.P. 1951. Studies in ichthyology. No. 15. Records of the Australian Museum 22(4): 389-408. DOI: 10.3853/j.0067-1975.22.1951.616, open access (as Leionura atun)

Whitley, G.P. 1964. A survey of Australian Ichthyology. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 89(1): 11-127 (as Leionura atun)

Winstanley, R.H., 1979. Snoek. CSIRO Division of Fisheries and Oceanography, Fishery Situation Report 4, 16 pp.

Yearsley, G.K., Last, P.R. & Ward, R.D. (eds) 1999. Australian Seafood Handbook. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 460 pp.

Young, J.W., Lamb, T.D. & Bradford, R.W. 1996. Distribution and community structure of midwater fishes in relation to the subtropical convergence off eastern Tasmania, Australia. Marine Biology 126(4): 571-584.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37439001

Depth:41-500 m


Habitat:Pelagic benthopelagic

Max Size:200 cm SL

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CAAB distribution map