Mersea Wildlife by David Nicholls
In the early morning light of November 22nd, a local Mersea fisherman, Steven Stoker, was trawling for soles in the Barrow Deeps some five miles off Walton.
On this occasion his cod-end held an unusual surprise. As he released his catch, out fell an enormous Opah or Moon-fish.
This fish is one of the most spectacular to be found in British vaters. It is also very rare in northern latitudes.
All the reference books refer to the Moon-fish's striking appearance and beautiful colouration. It has a deep oval, thickset body which is greenish blue on the back with large round silver spots. The underbelly is silvery red and the fins are deep scarlet.
Steven's fish was over 3 feet long and weighed 65 Ibs. Specimens have been recorded exceeding 4 feet in length and weighing 120 Ibs.
The last time anyone can remember an Opah being caught off our shores was over twenty years ago in 1971.
It is a deep water South Atlantic fish more at home off the coast of West Africa where it is relatively common.
The name Opah is an English corruption of a West African word "Uba" meaning moon-fish.
Most Opah are recorded as being caught off the west coast of North West Scotland. This would suggest they occasionally move north with the Gulf Stream.
These fish are reputed to be extremely good eating and for that reason the Norwegians refer to the Opah as "the large salmon".
Such is the rarity of the Opah in our waters that the merchant who purchased Steven's fish is going to have it mounted and displayed.
Apart from Moon-fish other common names for the Opah are, King-fish, Sea Pert, Jerusalem Haddock and Sun-fish, (not to be confused with the real Sun-fish, Orthagoriscus mola). Just to add to the confusion the Opah seems to have three variations in its Latin classification. Both my books have it as Lampris luna, (clearly a moon-fish). More recent books make it L. regius (royal/king) or L. guttatus (marked by speckles or drops).
Photo: Mersea Museum - David Nicholls
Image ID DNS_MFH_001
This image is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection.