Carcharhinus sorrah, Carcharhinus tilstoni, Carcharhinus limbatus

  • Grant Johnson (Department of Primary Industry and Resources, Northern Territory)
  • Brett Molony (Department of Fisheries, Western Australia)
  • Ian Jacobsen (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Vic Peddemors (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
New South Wales East Coast OTLF Sustainable Catch, MSY 
Ocean Trap and Line (NSW)
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Stock Structure

In the context of Australian fisheries, the Blacktip Shark species complex, part of the family Carcharhinidae (whaler sharks), comprises three species: Carcharhinus tilstoni (Australian Blacktip Shark), C. limbatus (Common Blacktip Shark) and C. sorrah (Spottail Shark). Whereas C. tilstoni and C. sorrah are distributed within Australian and Indo–West Pacific waters, respectively, C. limbatus is globally distributed in tropical and warm temperate waters. In Australian waters, genetic studies have identified two biological stocks of C. tilstoni (a Western stock extending from the western Northern Territory into northern Western Australia, and an Eastern stock extending from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the east coast of Queensland and New South Wales), three biological stocks of C. limbatus (one across Western Australia and the Northern Territory, one in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and one on the east coast of Queensland and New South Wales) and a single biological stock of C. sorrah across northern Australia1. Stock boundaries between the Western biological stocks of C. tilstoni and C. limbatus and those in the Gulf of Carpentaria are uncertain.

Currently, commercially caught size classes of C. limbatus and C. tilstoni can only be taxonomically differentiated by genetic analyses or precaudal vertebral counts (although recent evidence of hybridisation may affect the accuracy of these techniques2,3). Reliable species differentiation is not practical during fishing operations. Although C. sorrah can be clearly distinguished from C. tilstoni and C. limbatus, it has only relatively recently been reported separately in commercial catch records from Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australian fisheries. Because a suite of three species is grouped together for this assessment, all with differing stock structures, stocks have been assessed on the finest known scale—using the three biological stock areas identified for C. limbatus.

Here, assessment of stock status for the Blacktip Shark multispecies group is presented at the biological stock level—North and west coast, Gulf of Carpentaria, and East coast.

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Stock Status

East Coast

The Queensland shark stock assessment included 12 species or species complexes that are retained for sale on the Queensland east coast and included MSY estimates for C. tilstoni (143 t), C. limbatus (247 t) and C. sorrah (109 t)7. The results of this stock assessment indicate that the species complex has a combined MSY of 499.5 t4. This estimate is well above the total catch of Blacktip Sharks reported from the east coast in 2014–15 (165 t) and well above the long-term catch range of 120–311 t per financial year (2003–04 to 2014–15). The stock assessment report however acknowledged that there are a number of data limitations for Queensland fisheries, particularly with respect to the species identifications and the quantity and reliability of the available catch data.

Of significance, around 90 per cent of the Blacktip shark catch on the Queensland east coast is reported in a multispecies logbook category titled ‘Blacktip Whalers and Graceful Shark’. Data from this catch category cannot be split into individual species and, as a consequence, it is difficult to determine how much of this catch consists of Graceful Sharks (C. amblyrhynchoides, although this level is likely to be low8). From an assessment perspective, the inclusion of the C. amblyrhynchoides data would still result in the total Blacktip Shark complex being below MSY. As total catch levels including the C. amblyrhynchoides data are below the combined MSY estimate, the Queensland component of this stock is unlikely to be recruitment overfished.

Queensland has introduced a number of measures that reduces the likelihood of Blacktip Sharks being fished above the combined 499.5 t MSY estimate. A precautionary 600 t total allowable commercial catch (TACC) limit was introduced in 2009 and applies to all sharks and rays retained for sale on the Queensland east coast. This TACC was introduced in 2009 in conjunction with an ‘S’ fishing symbol that significantly reduced the number of licenses able to target sharks in high quantities. Since the TACC was introduced, total shark catch on the Queensland east coast has ranged from 296–521 t and included between 119 and 203 t of Blacktip Shark (including C. amblyrhynchoides). This equates to approximately 17–22 per cent of the combined MSY estimate for this complex (499.5 t)4.

Commercial catch records for the Ocean Trap and Line Fishery indicate that the annual reported commercial catch of Blacktip Sharks (comprising mostly C. limbatus) from New South Wales waters ranged from 13–66 t during the 10-year period spanning fiscal years from 1998–99 to 2007–089. However, significant use of catch reporting categories 'Unspecified Sharks' (5–204 t) and 'Unspecified Whaler Sharks' (7–26 t) during that period suggest that these historical quantities are most probably underestimates. Since management intervention in this fishery in 2009, the tonnage of Blacktip Sharks caught has dropped substantially and the reliability of species-specific catch reporting has improved considerably. A total of 14 t of Blacktip Sharks was landed in New South Wales during the 2015 calendar year. The catch of Blacktip Sharks in the New South Wales Shark Meshing Program is negligible, at less than 1 t. Collectively, these figures indicate that the overall catch of this species in New South Wales waters is insignificant in terms of impacting the East coast stock.

Overall the information provided by both jurisdictions indicates that the stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished and the level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the East coast multispecies biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Blacktip Sharks biology2,10–12

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
BLACKTIP SHARKS Carcharhinus tilstoni: Females 15 years, males 13 years; 2 000 mm  TL Carcharhinus limbatus: Maximum age unknown, 2 500 mm  TL C. sorrah: Females 14 years, males 9 years; 1 600 mm  TL C. tilstoni: 5–6 years; females 1 350–1 400 mm, males 1 200 mm  TL C. limbatus: males 1 800 mm, females unknown C. sorrah: 2–3 years; both sexes 900–950 mm  TL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Blacktip Sharks

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Fishing methods
New South Wales
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Demersal Gillnet
Mesh Net
Otter Trawl
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Total allowable catch
Vessel restrictions
Bag limits
Size limits
Size limit
Spatial closures
Active vessels
New South Wales
217 in OTLF
Ocean Trap and Line (NSW)
New South Wales
Commercial 7.56t in OTLF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown but likely to be negligible
Ocean Trap and Line (NSW)

a Queensland – Indigenous In Queensland, under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers in Queensland are able to use prescribed traditional and non-commercial fishing apparatus in waters open to fishing. Size and possession limits, and seasonal closures do not apply to Indigenous fishers. Further exemptions to fishery regulations may be applied for through permits.
b Indigenous Subject to the defence that applies under Section 211. of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and the exemption from a requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, the non-commercial take by indigenous fishers is covered by the same arrangements as that for recreational fishing.
c Western Australia – Commercial (Fishing methods) No commercial fishing has occurred in the Western Australia jurisdiction since April 2009.
d Western Australia – Recreational (Management methods) A recreational fishing from boat licence is required for recreational fishing from a powered vessel in Western Australia.
e New South Wales – Indigenous Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement - allows an Aboriginal fisher in New South Wales to take in excess of a recreational bag limit in certain circumstances, for example, if they are doing so to provide fish to other community members who cannot harvest themselves
f  New South Wales – Indigenous Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement - allows an Aboriginal fisher in New South Wales to take in excess of a recreational bag limit in certain circumstances, for example, if they are doing so to provide fish to other community members who cannot harvest themselves

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Blacktip Sharks - note confidential catch not shown

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • Pelagic gillnets and longlines are not intended to come into contact with the seabed, and, under normal circumstances, they have no impact on benthic habitats. Demersal gillnets contact the seabed but are generally set away from any benthic structures (for example, reefs, sponges or mangroves) that could be damaged by them, or cause damage to them. The physical characteristics of these gears and the way in which they are fished are also selective for the target species and size classes.
  • However, these fishing methods do interact with threatened, endangered and protected (TEP) species. Although reported interactions are low, the impact on the populations of most TEP species is either unknown13–19 or assessed as negligible to low14. Longline fishing on the east coast has been shown to have the potential to threaten the long-term viability of the east coast population of Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus)20.
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Environmental effects on BLACKTIP SHARKS

  • The impact of environmental factors on biological stocks of Blacktip Sharks is unknown. These species are adapted to a range of environmental conditions and are therefore likely to be resilient to environmental changes.
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  1. 1 Ovenden, JR, Street, R, Broderick, D, Kashiwagi, T and Salini, J 2007, Genetic population structure of Black-tip Sharks ( Carcharhinus tilstoni and C. sorrah) in northern Australia, in J Salini, R McAuley, S Blaber, RC Buckworth, J Chidlow, N Gribble, JR Ovenden, S Peverell, R Pillans, JD Stevens, I Stobutzki, C Tarca and TI Walker (eds), Northern Australian sharks and rays: the sustainability of target and bycatch species, phase 2, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Cleveland, Queensland.
  2. 2 Harry, AV 2011, Life histories of commercially important tropical sharks from the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, PhD thesis, James Cook University, Townsville.
  3. 3 Morgan, JA, Harry, AV, Welch, DJ, Street, R, White, J, Geraghty, PT, Macbeth, WG, Tobin, A, Simpfendorfer, CA and Ovenden, JR 2011, Detection of interspecies hybridisation in Chondrichthyes: hybrids and hybrid offspring between Australian (Carcharhinus tilstoni) and common (C. limbatus) Blacktip Shark found in an Australian fishery, Conservation Genetics, 13: 455–463.
  4. 4 Grubert, MA, Saunders, TM, Martin, JM, Lee, HS and Walters, CJ 2013, Stock assessments of selected Northern Territory fishes, Fishery report 110, Northern Territory Government, Darwin.
  5. 5 Bradshaw, CJA, Field, IC, McMahon, CR, Johnson, GJ, Meekan, MG and Buckworth, RC 2013, More analytical bite in estimating targets for shark harvest, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 488: 221–232.
  6. 6 Molony, B, McAuley, R and Rowland, F 2012, Northern shark fisheries status report: Statistics only, in WJ Fletcher and K Santoro (eds), State of the fisheries and aquatic resources report 2012/13, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth, 216–217.
  7. 7 Leigh, GM, 2016, Stock assessment of whaler and hammerhead sharks (Carcharhinidae and Sphyrinidae) in Queensland, Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  8. 8 Harry, AV, Tobin, AJ, Simpfendorfer, CA, Welch, DJ, Mapleston, A, White, J, Williams, AJ, Stapley, J 2011, Evaluating catch and mitigating risk in a multispecies, tropical, inshore shark fishery within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Marine and Freshwater Research 62:710-721.
  9. 9 Macbeth, WG, Geraghty, PT, Peddemors, VM, and Gray, CA 2009, Observer-based study of targeted commercial fishing for large shark species in waters of New South Wales, Industry and Investment New South Wales - Fisheries Final Report Series 82.
  10. 10 Harry, AV, Morgan, JAT, Ovenden, JR, Tobin, A, Welch, DJ and Simpfendorfer, C 2012, Comparison of the reproductive ecology of two sympatric Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus and Carcharhinus tilstoni) off north-eastern Australia with species identification inferred from vertebral counts, Journal of Fish Biology, 81: 1225–1233.
  11. 11 Harry, AV, Tobin, AJ, Simpfendorfer, CA, Welch, DJ, Mapleston, A, White, J, Williams, AJ and Stapley, J 2011, Evaluating catch and mitigating risk in a multi-species, tropical, inshore shark fishery within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Marine and Freshwater Research, 62: 710–721.
  12. 12 Last, PR and Stevens, JD 2009, Sharks and rays of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.
  13. 13 Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2013, Review of management arrangements for the east coast Queensland shark fishery 2013, Wildlife Trade Operation Condition 7, Queensland DAFF, Brisbane.
  14. 14 McAuley, R and Rowland, F 2012, Northern shark fisheries status report, in WJ Fletcher and K Santoro (eds), State of the fisheries and aquatic resources report 2011/12, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth, 222–228.
  15. 15 Northern Territory Government 2012, Fishery status reports 2011, Fishery report 111, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Darwin.
  16. 16 Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2014, Gulf of Carpentaria Inshore Fin Fish Fishery, 2012 fishing year report, Queensland DAFF, Brisbane.
  17. 17 Rowling, KA, Hegarty, A and Ives, M 2010, Status of fisheries resources in NSW 2008/09, Industry and Investment New South Wales, Cronulla.
  18. 18 Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation 2011, Fishery observation in the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery, Queensland DEEDI, Brisbane.
  19. 19 Stapley, J and Rose, C 2009, A report on data collected by fisheries observers in the Queensland Offshore Commercial Mesh Net Fishery (N9) in the Gulf of Carpentaria, 2000–2006 , Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  20. 20 Bradshaw, CJA, Peddemors, VM, McAuley, RB and Harcourt, R 2008, Population viability of eastern Australia Grey Nurse Sharks under fishing mitigation and climate change, final report to the Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts; Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide.

Archived reports

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