The phylogenetic relationships among populations of seaperch, Helicolenus spp., in the south-west Pacific were examined with mtDNA markers. Parts of the cytochrome b gene [459 base pair (bp)] and the control region (448 bp) were sequenced in 58 specimens from the south-west Pacific and four specimens of Helicolenus lengerichi from Chile. Only one clade was recognized in New Zealand coastal waters, despite a wide range of colour morphs. This clade also occurred in the mid Tasman Sea on the Norfolk Ridge and around Tasmania and Victoria. A second sympatric clade was identified around Tasmania and Victoria and to the west of New Zealand. A third allopatric clade was identified to the north of New Zealand and in deep water on the Chatham Rise and a fourth clade on the Foundation Seamounts and the Louisville Ridge. Helicolenus lengerichi from Chile formed a fifth clade. Assuming a molecular clock, the clades were estimated to have diverged c. 0.7-2.6 million years ago. Only two clades, around Tasmania and Victoria, were separated using morphology, colour (in live) and dorsal-fin soft ray counts and were confirmed as Helicolenus percoides and Helicolenus barathri. Two characters, orbit diameter and colour variation, previously used to identify two species in New Zealand waters were unreliable characters for species discrimination. Principle component analyses of 11 morphological measures from 67 individuals did not delineate the clades. A canonical discriminant analysis was able to separate four of the five clades, but mean discriminate probabilities were low (77.6%), except for the five Chilean specimens of H. lengerichi (100%).