Tailor (Pomatomus saltatrix) is one of the most popular recreational fishing species in Western Australia. There is also a small commercial industry for tailor, with most of the catch taken in Shark Bay.
Tailor move in schools along inshore coastal waters and estuaries, slicing through schools of bait fish with their razor-sharp teeth. Their ferocious appetite, schooling behaviour and distribution close to shore make them an easy catch.
With a missile-shaped head, forked tail and powerful streamlined frame, the tailor is well suited to the turbulent waters of surf beaches.
Although silvery in colour, tailor can display a green, olive or bluish tinge along their backs. Their fins are a pale green with a tinge of yellow
Tailor grow rapidly. In WA, they reach about 20 cm in length at about one year of age. By five years they grow to 60 cm and weigh more than a kilogram. In 1996, one of the biggest ever recorded in the world died at the Aquarium of Western Australia. Estimated to be 11 years old, it was more than a metre long and weighed 15.7 kg.
Distribution and habitat
Tailor live in cool tropical and warm temperate ocean waters in eight isolated populations worldwide. In Western Australia, they’re found from Exmouth to Albany. There is another population on Australia’s east coast. Tailor move in schools around reefs close to shore, while larger tailor can also be found at offshore reefs. In the daytime, schools rest in deeper waters. At dusk and dawn they start their main feeding runs close to shore.
Tailor reach spawning size at about 35 cm, at two to three years of age. They release eggs and sperm several times during the spawning season. The number of eggs released per spawning increases from about 370,000 when the female is 30 cm in length, to 1.2 million at 54 cm. Spawning occurs along the coast from late winter to spring in the Gascoyne region; further to the south, it occurs in autumn.
Eggs and larvae are dispersed by currents. Once the larvae metamorphose into juveniles, young tailor swim into sheltered marine areas and estuaries.
The level of recruitment (addition of young fish to the overall population) of tailor in specific regions along the coast varies from year to year, probably due to variations in annual breeding success and prevailing currents. Some migrate north and south while others stay close to home. Tailor prefer a narrow water temperature range of 18-25°C.
When they reach spawning size, they move into ocean waters to spawn and the lifecycle begins again.
Young tailor, up to about 30 cm, feed on small bait fish (such as whitebait) and crustaceans. They’re sometimes called ‘choppers’ for the way they bite prey into pieces before eating it. Usually, the tail is bitten off first to disable the prey, with the remains eaten by others in the school. Feeding frenzies on schools of baitfish have been seen close to shore.
Adult tailor prey on sea mullet, yellow-eye mullet, whiting, garfish, mulies and blue mackerel. They also eat other tailor, if small or injured.
Tailor are eaten by some shark species.
Illustration © R. Swainston/www.anima.net.au