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Ballan Wrasse

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Ballan Wrasse


A colourful fish popular with divers and snorkelers. This is not traditionally caught by Cornish fishermen however, in recent years its commercial value has increased and this species is now being sold to Japanese restaurants where it is prized as sashimi. There is also a fishery for live juvenile ballan wrasse which are used as cleaner fish in salmon farms, where they eat parasites on the salmon and aim to limit spread of disease within the farms.

Sustainability Overview

Ballan wrasse are a common species around Cornwall but one that has not been commercially targeted until recent years. Little is known about current stock levels and there is no management in place to prevent potential over fishing. 

In 2021 a total of 1 tonne of ballan wrasse were landed to Cornish ports.

Updated April 2024

Sustainability ratings for this species

Gill Netting


Gill nets are lightweight nets made of nylon (monofilament) fishing line that are anchored to the seabed and are used to catch fish by entangling the gills.

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How we rate fish

Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.


The largest wrasse species found in UK waters, this is a predatory, stocky fish that lives in kelp forests close to the shore and down to depths of up to 50m. Grows to a maximum length of 69cm although most seen are smaller. It can live for up to 30 years. They are territorial and are able to change sex with each large male residing over a harem of several females. If the male dies the largest female will change sex and take over. They feed on a wide range of prey species including crustaceans, molluscs, urchins and small fish. 
They have a relatively high biological vulnerability rating (67% Cheung et al 2008).

Stock Info

There is no information on the stock of this species. There may be an issue with misreporting as MMO data shows landings of Ballan wrasse to be low but landings of wrasses is increasing with landings increasing from less than one tonne per year in the late 1990's to over 5 tonnes per year in 2012 and 2013 nationally. Landings to Cornish ports have remained around one tonne following a large increase from 2017 to 2018.


There is currently no minimum landing size enforced for this species.  They are caught as by catch in red mullet and bass nets and may be being targeted by anglers.  There is no limit on the catch of this species (no quota). If this fishery becomes more commercially important this will be needed to be addressed. 

There is a small scale fishery for live wrasse to be used as cleaner fish in salmon farms that first started in 2012 in Cornwall. Cornwall IFCA have brought in strict regulations on this fishery limiting its extent in terms of areas that can be fished and limiting the number of boats involved. This has resulted in a highly controlled fishery which to date has not resulted in any observed adverse impact on wrasse stocks.  Use of cleaner wrasse in salmon aquaculture is a highly dubious practice in terms of ethics and effectiveness.  



Capture Info

Caught in gill nets, and occasionally in pots, usually close to shore. Fisheries targeting live fish use specialist pots designed to target small wrasse.


Marine Management Organisation Landings data 1994- 2021
Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly, 2005. A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111

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