Potato bass


The potato bass is an elongate and very robust fish with a huge mouth and rounded tail. The overall colour is light brown with large, dark spots on its body which resemble potatoes. Smaller spots can be found on the head and fins.


Phylum:  Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class:  Osteichthyes
Order:  Perciformes
Family:  Serranidae 
Genus:  Epinephelus 
Species:  tukula
Common name: potato bass, potato grouper, potato rock cod


This species is widely distributed along the Indo-Pacific region.


The potato bass reaches sexual maturity at 90cm. Little is known about their breeding habits but they have been recorded spawning during spring and summer. Mature individuals pair up during the breeding season and perform courtship displays which include a ritualized breeding ‘dance’ in which they rub their bodies together and swim in tight circles above the reef. After this courtship ‘dance’ they release their eggs and sperm and fertilization occurs.


Associated with reefs, mainly found in deep reef channels and seamounts in current-prone areas. Adults can be found at depths of 10 to 400m. Juveniles may be found in tidal pools.


Variety of reef fish, skates, rays, crabs and lobsters. The potato bass is an ambush predator which quickly snatches its prey after a short chase.


The potato bass is a territorial species and can be highly aggressive towards unwelcome intruders. Due to its aggressive nature and sheer power, it is one of the most dominant species on the reef. It is also highly inquisitive and can be a nuisance to divers as it has a cheeky habit of tampering with their gear and catches. Cleaner wrasse (Labroides) often feed on their parasites.


This highly territorial species is one of the most dominant predators on a reef. Potato bass probably grow very slowly, a factor that makes them extremely vulnerable to overexploitation. Since few studies have been undertaken on this species, little is known about its life cycle.


The two main threats to this species are overfishing and habitat damage of reefs. This is a highly valued species in the Eastern markets and is found in the Hong-Kong live fish trade. There are developments in Asia to farm this species to reduce pressure on wild stocks. In South Africa the species has been over-exploited due to their large size, trophy status and their inquisitive nature.


Red list. (no sale).


Least Concern.

Although they are widespread, the potato bass distribution is patchy and it is an uncommon species except in Marine Protected Areas. More information is needed on its biology and impacts of fishing on its populations throughout its range. The potato bass will be re-evaluated by the IUCN as more information becomes available.


SMS the name of the fish you see at a restaurant or shop to 079 499 8795 to find out if harvesting it is sustainable.


IUCN Red List [2014]

ARKive [2014]

Oceanographic Research Institute [2014]

Van der Elst, R.P. 2012. A Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa (12th ed). Struik Publishers, Cape Town. 398pp.

Heemstra,  P.  Heemstra,  E.  2004. Coastal Fishes of Southern Africa. National Enquiry Service Centre, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Grahamstown. 488pp.

Mann, B.Q.  2013. Southern African Marine Linefish Species Profiles (9th ed). South African Association for Marine Biological Research, Durban.  343pp.

Potato bass - Downloadable fact sheet