Toadfish: getting a bad rap

During my many dives and snorkels in our amazing Port Phillip Bay, I’ve always enjoyed coming across the Smooth Toadfish. Their curious demeanour along with their big eyes and upturned “smiling” face have always made them a delight to encounter. Unfortunately, my views on this fish are not entirely shared by others who enjoy the Bay. Smooth Toadfish, or simply ‘toadfish’ as they’re more commonly known, along with a few other fellow species of blowfish, have unfortunately developed a reputation as pests or nuisances.

While I’ll concede that toadfish may occasionally steal a fisher’s bait, the reality is that the toadfish’s reputation as a pest could not be further from the truth. The fact is that they are a native species and play an important role throughout the marine ecosystems of south-eastern Australia. Toadfish play a key role as a mid-level predator, actively feeding on a range of smaller crustaceans whilst being prey for larger fish species such as Tailor and Mulloway. Additionally, toadfish are thought to play an important role in cleaning up organic debris, such as leftover bait and burley around piers and jetties by acting as scavengers.

Troublingly, the toadfish’s undeserved reputation has sometimes resulted in their unnecessary death. Despite the species being inedible, some aren’t released after being unintentionally caught and, as a result, unnecessary harm is done to the ecosystems within our bay.

I want to make the point clear that I in no way seek to cast aspersions or place blame on the entire recreational angling community of Victoria – of which I count myself a part of. I simply aim to draw further attention to the entrenched misconceptions surrounding this species. It is also important to point out that Victoria’s angling community has played and continue to play a vital role in aiding the state’s control of actual invasive pest species. Anglers do a huge service to our state’s aquatic ecosystems by removing pest species, such as the Northern Pacific Seastar and the European Carp, instead of releasing them.

 The Northern Pacific seastar. Photo: Evatt Chirgwin
The Northern Pacific Seastar. Image: Evatt Chirgwin

I’ve seen more than a few arguments break out over toadfish, both on local piers and on internet forums, and I simply ask any of those that still harbour doubts about the importance of this species to refer to the regulations in the fishing guide set by the state fisheries authorities. Note that penalties apply if you are found not complying with these regulations.

There is a long way to go to correct the unfortunate misconceptions and attitudes about Victoria’s lesser-known marine species. However, as one of the more commonly encountered species in our beautiful Bay there is hope that with more snorkelers, divers and beachgoers encountering the toadfish in their travels, appreciation for this quirky species will only continue to increase.