Barramundi, Lates calcarifer


Matt Clarke on the Barramundi, Lates calcarifer, a species which is about to disappear from the trade due to import restrictions.

Common name: Barramundi

Scientific name: Lates calcarifer (Bloch, 1790)

Origin: Best known from northern Australia, where it is farmed for food and is a popular sport fish. Also found in coastal waters across much of the Indo Pacific, including around eastern India, to Singapore, Taiwan and China.

Size: Maximum size is believed to be around 2m/6'6", with a weight of around 60 kg/132 lbs. Research from the aquaculture industry has shown that this species can reach 31-33cm/12-13" in the first year, 45-50cm/18-20" after two years, and 81cm+/32"+ after six years. It is not a species we would recommend for the aquarium.

Diet: Juveniles said to eat insects, while larger specimens take crustaceans and fish. Like other Lates, it is a violent feeder and tongs should be used if hand-feeding large specimens. Normally fed pelleted foods.

Water: Lates calcarifer is found in freshwater, brackish and marine conditions at temperatures ranging from 20-25C/68-77F. Small fish, like these, are typically found in brackish swamps near estuaries. Adults are diadromous. They live at sea but return to brackish and freshwater to spawn. Barramundi aquaculture research recommends keeping the fish at 28C in freshwater with a pH of around 7.

Aquarium: Adults commonly grow to over a metre in captivity, so really deserve an "aquarium" of at least 6m x 3m x 2m/20' x 10' x 6'6", making this a species really only suitable for those with vast tropical ponds or a public aquarium. Not recommended.

Notes: This species is a protandrous hermpaphrodite - it starts life as a male and can change sex to become female when mature, usually at about five years old. Barramundi are farmed in the New Forest and are sold on fish counters in Waitrose. Lates are members of the family Latiidae and are most common in East Africa's lakes. The genus contains nine species, including: L. angustifrons, L. stappersii and L. mariae from Lake Tanganyika; L. japonicus from Japan; L. longispinis from Kenya and Ethiopia and L. macrophthalmus from Lake Albert.

Availability: These fish were on sale at Wildwoods in Middlesex. This species is rarely offered for sale and, oddly, is one of hundreds of species to recently be listed as "coldwater" by DEFRA. It is now no longer possible to import it on a tropical fish import licence, which will see it becoming much rarer in the hobby.

Price: Expect to pay around 10-20 for a baby.