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Snapper is widely distributed in Australia and managed as twleve stocks. Seven are sustainable, one is recovering, three are depleted and one is undefined.
Stock Status Overview
|South Australia||Gulf St. Vincent||NZRLF, MSF||Sustainable||Catch, CPUE, age composition, fishery independent spawning biomass survey|
|South Australia||Spencer Gulf/West Coast||NZRLF, MSF||Depleted||Catch, CPUE, age composition, fishery independent spawning biomass survey|
|South Australia||Western Victoria||SZRLF, MSF||Sustainable||Catch, CPUE, pre-recruit survey, age and length composition|
- Marine Scalefish Fishery (SA)
- Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery (SA)
- Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery (SA)
Snapper has a wide distribution in Australia, from the Gascoyne region on the west coast of Western Australia, around the south of the continent, and up to northern Queensland around Hinchinbrook Island [Kailola et al. 1993]. Within this broad distribution, the biological stock structure is complex.
Recent genetic studies of Snapper using microsatellite markers have led to a refined understanding of stock structure for the east Australian coast that have indicated greater complexity than previously thought. Snapper from Queensland to central New South Wales show little genetic differentiation and are considered to represent a single genetic stock [Morgan et al. in press], consistent with earlier studies using allozymes [Sumpton et al. 2008]. This stock is referred to as the East Coast Stock, with the Queensland and New South Wales components managed and assessed at the jurisdictional level. However, migratory dynamics between Queensland and New South Wales are not well understood and some studies have suggested limited long-range movements, with many fish showing extended periods of local residency [Harasti et al. 2015, Sumpton et al. 2003]. The majority of commercial landings in New South Wales are thought to consist of fish that recruit from local estuaries [Gillanders 2002]. In addition to the limited mixing within the stock, key biological traits of Snapper (such as the size and age at maturity) vary with latitude [Stewart et al. 2010]. It is therefore appropriate to manage and report on stock status of the East Coast biological stock of Snapper at the jurisdictional level – as Queensland and New South Wales jurisdictional stocks.
It is now considered that Snapper from eastern Victoria are genetically differentiated from those to the north of Eden on the southern coast of New South Wales [Morgan et al. unpublished]. As such, Snapper from Wilsons Promontory to southern New South Wales are considered to be a separate biological stock that is now referred to as the Eastern Victorian stock. Although there is low genetic variation between the eastern and western sides of Wilsons Promontory [Meggs and Austin 2003, Morgan et al. unpublished], separation between these populations has been supported by tagging and otolith chemistry studies [Coutin et al. 2003, Hamer et al. 2011]. Snapper to the west of Wilsons Promontory, including the important fisheries of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, constitute the Western Victorian biological stock. This extends westward from Wilsons Promontory to near the mouth of the Murray River in south eastern South Australia [Donnellan and McGlennon 1996, Fowler et al. 2017, Hamer et al. 2011, Sanders 1974].
The South Australian fishery was originally divided into six management units, due to uncertainty about movement among different regional populations [Fowler et al. 2013]. However, a recent study evaluated the stock structure and adult movement among regional populations within South Australia, and also with western Victoria [Fowler 2016, Fowler et al. 2017], based on inter-regional comparisons of otolith chemistry and increment widths, as well as population characteristics. The study differentiated three stocks. The Western Victorian stock which extends westward into south-eastern South Australia depends on recruitment into, and subsequent emigration from, Port Phillip Bay in Victoria. As such, this is a cross-jurisdictional stock, although the components from the two states are still managed independently. The two other stocks are wholly located within South Australia. The Spencer Gulf/West Coast stock depends on recruitment into Northern Spencer Gulf from where some fish emigrate to replenish the populations of Southern Spencer Gulf and the west coast of Eyre Peninsula. The third stock is the Gulf St. Vincent stock, which relies on recruitment into Northern Gulf St. Vincent, and subsequent emigration to Southern Gulf St. Vincent and Investigator Strait [Fowler et al. 2016].
In Western Australia, Snapper is currently divided into six management units. At the smaller geographic scale inside Shark Bay, genetically-related but biologically separate stocks have been identified in the Eastern Gulf, Denham Sound and Freycinet Estuary based on otolith chemistry and tagging [Bastow et al. 2002, Edmonds et al. 1999, Gardner et al. 2017, Johnson et al. 1986, Moran et al. 2003, Norriss et al. 2012]. At the wider scale, Snapper in oceanic waters off the Western Australian coast that comprise the three remaining management units, i.e. Shark Bay oceanic, West Coast and South Coast, show low levels of genetic differentiation (microsatellites) over hundreds of kilometers consistent with a semi-continuous genetic stock where gene flow is primarily limited by geographic distance [Gardner and Chaplin 2011, Gardner et al. 2017]. Otolith chemistry has indicated residency of adult Snapper in the Gascoyne, West and South Coast bioregions, but with recruitment likely coming from multiple nursery areas [Fairclough et al. 2013, Wakefield et al. 2011]. Tagging studies support these findings with the majority of adults tagged at the key spawning locations in the Gascoyne and West Coast bioregions recaptured within 100 km, as well as location philopatry of adults that aggregate to spawn in embayments on the west coast [Crisafulli et al. in press, Moran et al. 2003, Wakefield et al. 2011].
Here, assessment of stock status for Snapper is presented at the biological stock level—Shark Bay inshore Eastern Gulf, Shark Bay inshore Denham Sound, Shark Bay inshore Freycinet Estuary (Western Australia); Eastern Victoria (Victoria), Western Victoria (Victoria and South Australia), Gulf St Vincent, Spencer Gulf/West Coast (South Australia); the management unit level—South Coast, Shark Bay Oceanic and West Coast (Western Australia); and the jurisdictional level–Queensland and New South Wales.
Gulf St. Vincent
Snapper is one of the most valuable species in South Australia's commercial multi-species, multi-gear and multi-sectoral Marine Scalefish Fishery, providing both a high volume and high price per unit weight to commercial fishers. The Gulf St. Vincent stock (GSVS) includes two regional populations: Northern Gulf St. Vincent (NGSV) and Southern Gulf St. Vincent (SGSV). NGSV has recently supported the bulk of the biomass and is the primary nursery area for the stock [Fowler et al. 2016]. As such, it supports a self-replenishing regional population and is the source for fish that emigrate to replenish the population in SGSV.
The most recent assessment of the GSVS of Snapper was completed in 2018 [Steer et al. 2018] and used data to the end of December 2017. The primary measures for biomass and fishing mortality are total catch, targeted effort and catch per unit effort (CPUE ) from commercial fishers, an estimate of spawning biomass from the daily egg production method and measures of recruitment strength from fish age composition. In recent years, the GSVS has produced the highest catches ever recorded in South Australia [Steer et al. 2018]. Whilst catches were low between 1984 and 2006, they increased rapidly from 2006 to 2010, culminating in the record catch of 454.1 t in the latter year. Although annual catches have declined subsequently, there has been a period of eight consecutive years of high catches. The maintenance of high catches relates, to some extent, to the transformation from a largely handline to a longline fishery, with the adoption of new longline technology that increased the efficiency of fishing. Targeted longline effort and CPUE both increased rapidly between 2008 and 2010 to record levels and have remained relatively high to 2017, indicative of a high fishable biomass.
The increase in fishery performance indicators up to 2017 reflects a substantial increase in the biomass of this stock since the early 2000s [Steer et al. 2018]. In 2014, an estimate of spawning biomass based on the daily egg production method indicated that the biomass was ten times that of the Spencer Gulf/West Coast stock, at 2 780 t [Steer et al. 2017]. Recent population age compositions show that numerous strong year classes recruited to the NGSV throughout the 2000s, augmenting several strong year classes from the late 1990s [Fowler et al. 2016]. Between 2010 and 2017 for the GSVS, the estimates of total catch, longline effort and CPUE have gradually decreased, suggesting some decline in biomass. Nevertheless, the estimates of the performance indicators in 2017 still remain high compared with historical values [Steer et al. 2018]. Between 2012 and 2016, management changes were implemented to restrict the fishing pressure on the stock and to maximise the opportunity for reproduction and recruitment.
The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Furthermore, the above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Gulf St. Vincent (South Australia) biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.
Spencer Gulf/West Coast
The Spencer Gulf/West Coast (SG/WC) stock involves the regional populations of Northern Spencer Gulf (NSG), Southern Spencer Gulf (SSG) and the west coast of Eyre Peninsula (WC) [Fowler et al. 2017]. NSG supports the primary nursery area for the whole stock. It is a self-replenishing region, whilst the other two regions depend on migration of Snapper from NSG. The population dynamics are strongly driven by inter-annual variation in recruitment of the 0+ year class and subsequent emigration from NSG to adjacent regional populations [Fowler et al. 2017]. In particular, occasional strong year classes are evident in age compositions, and contribute to population abundance, biomass and fishery productivity for years and even decades [Fowler et al. 2016].
The most recent assessment of stock status considered data up to December 2017 [Steer et al. 2018]. The primary measures for biomass and fishing mortality are total catch, targeted effort and CPUE from commercial fishers, an estimate of spawning biomass from the daily egg production method and measures of recruitment strength from fish age composition. Across the 34 year time series of annual commercial fishery statistics for this stock from 1984 to 2017, estimates of total catch, effort and CPUE have varied cyclically over time [Steer et al. 2018], reflecting the influence of variable recruitment [Fowler et al. 2016]. Nevertheless, in 2012, there were unprecedented declines in total catch, and in handline effort and CPUE, whilst low longline effort and CPUE were also recorded. Recent age compositions for both NSG and SSG showed the lack of any strong recruitment year classes since 1999, which indicates that recruitment throughout the 2000s has been relatively weak [Fowler et al. 2016]. Weak year classes in the SSG indicate that rates of migration from NSG have been poor, reflecting the low recruitment to the region throughout the 2000s [Fowler et al. 2016].
From at least 2012 onwards, fishery performance indicators show that the biomass of the SG/WC Stock has declined considerably [Fowler et al. 2013, Fowler et al. 2016, Steer et al. 2018]. In response, significant fishery management changes were implemented between 2012 and 2016 to reduce the commercial catch and to increase reproductive output to provide the opportunity for improved recruitment [Fowler et al. 2016]. These changes included: introduction of daily commercial catch limits; a further restriction to the number of hooks that could be used on set lines; an extension of two weeks to the State-wide, seasonal closure for taking Snapper (thus spanning 1 November to 15 December); implementation of four spatial spawning closures throughout SG to protect the key spawning aggregations throughout the entire reproductive season [Fowler et al. 2016]. Recreational bag and boat limits have also been reduced [Steer et al. 2018].
Despite these changes, commercial fishery statistics up to 2017 showed no improvement, with all estimates of catch and gear-specific effort and CPUE remaining near historically low levels [Steer et al. 2018]. A daily egg production survey in 2013 provided an estimate of biomass of 280 t across all of NSG and part of SSG [Steer et al. 2017]. This biomass is considerably lower than the catches that were recorded during the early 2000s, and is an order of magnitude less than the estimated biomass for the adjacent Gulf St. Vincent stock. The population age composition also indicates that recruitment has been relatively low throughout the 2000s [Fowler et al. 2016, Steer et al. 2018].
The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is likely to be depleted and that recruitment is likely to be impaired. Furthermore, the above evidence indicates that the current fishing mortality is constrained by management to a level that should allow the stock to recover from its recruitment impaired state; however, measurable improvements are yet to be detected.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Spencer Gulf/West Coast (South Australia) biological stock is classified as a depleted stock.
Assessment of the Western Victorian biological stock is based on consideration of catch per unit effort (CPUE) fishery-independent trawl survey of pre-recruit (young-of-the-year) abundance in Port Phillip Bay, the main spawning and nursery area for this stock [Hamer et al. 2011]. Although this stock extends throughout the coastal waters of central/western Victoria and south-east South Australia, the main indicator data are derived from the major bay fisheries in Victoria; Port Phillip Bay and Western Port.
The most recent stock assessments were in 2016 and 2017 [Hamer and Conron 2016, VFA 2017]. These assessments indicated that commercial longline catch rates of adult Snapper in the main fishery region of Port Phillip Bay had increased from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s. The highest catch rates since effort recording began in 1978 were observed in 2011–12. In recent years, catch rates have declined slightly, but have remained at three to four times higher than the historic lows observed in the mid-late 1990s. Recreational catch rates of adult Snapper in Port Phillip Bay displayed a similar pattern of increase from the mid-1990s through the 2000s, peaking between 2010 and 2012. From 2013, recreational catch rates of adult Snapper dropped by approximately 50 per cent, but from 2014 have stabilised at levels approximately two times higher than the historical lows in the mid-1990s [VFA, unpublished data].
While the increased catch rates from the late 1990s to early 2010s may be partially attributed to increased capture-efficiency due to technology uptake, gear modifications and mobile communications, the increases were entirely consistent with increased recruitment rates observed by the pre-recruit surveys. Following moderate recruitment events in the mid-late 1990s, fishery independent surveys and age and length composition of catches by the recreational and commercial sectors showed three strong recruitment events occurred in 2001, 2004 and 2005 [Hamer and Conron 2016, VFA 2017]. These recruitment events were important in driving the increase in biomass of the Western Victorian Snapper stock observed during the 2000s. The recent decline in catch rates was expected as the two dominant cohorts in the adult component of the fishery (birth years 2001 and 2004) are now depleted. Pre-recruit surveys over the last 10 years have shown moderate recruitments in 2008, 2009, and 2010, strong recruitments in 2013 and 2014, and the largest recruitment in 26 years in 2018 [VFA 2017, VFA unpublished data]. The earlier of these cohorts recently recruited to the adult biomass, contributing to increased catch rates. The adult biomass and fishery catch rates are expected to increase further over the coming years due to the recent high juvenile recruitments.
The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.
Commercial netting is being phased out in Port Phillip Bay. Since 2016, 34 of the 43 licences have been bought out by the Victorian Government. Commercial net fishing in Port Phillip Bay will cease by 2022 and has already ceased in Corio Bay. Netting methods (haul seine and mesh nets) accounted for, on average, approximately 35 per cent of the total Snapper harvest from Port Phillip Bay since 2000, mostly comprising immature/sub-adult fish. From 2015 to 2017, the commercial Snapper harvest in Port Phillip Bay dropped from approximately 104 t to 42 t due to the structural changes to the fishery and the remaining fishers transitioning from net to primarily hook methods. The Port Phillip Bay commercial Snapper harvest is currently capped at 88 t. Commercial harvest from coastal waters by the Victorian, South Australian and Commonwealth operators combined, was less than 20 t in 2016–17, compared to a peak of 285 t in 2009–10 [VFA, unpublished data]. The recreational fishery is the dominant harvest sector, with the most recent harvest estimate in 2006–07 in the order of 600 t [Ryan et al. 2017].
The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Western Victorian biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.
Snapper biology [Fowler et al. 2016, Jackson et al. 2010, Stewart et al. 2010, Wakefield et al. 2015, Wakefield et al. 2016]
|Species||Longevity / Maximum Size||Maturity (50 per cent)|
|Snapper||30–40 years, 1300 mm TL||2–7 years, 220–560 mm TL|
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Bag and boat limits|
|Commercial||329.21t in MSF, NZRLF, 8.99t in MSF, SZRLF|
|Recreational||332 t (2013–14)|
- Marine Scalefish Fishery (SA)
- Northern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery (SA)
- Southern Zone Rock Lobster Fishery (SA)
Western Australia - Recreational (Catch) Ryan et al. 2017.
Western Australia – Recreational (Management Methods) In Western Australia, total recreational catch limits (that is, maximum catch limits) have been applied to stocks of Snapper in inner Shark Bay and the west coast, to aid recovery of stocks.
Queensland – Indigenous (Management Methods) Under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers in Queensland are entitled 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.
New South Wales – Indigenous (Management Methods) (a) Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement—allows an Indigenous 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 for themselves; (b) The Aboriginal cultural fishing authority is the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority; and (c) In cases where the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) applies fishing activity can be undertaken by the person holding native title in line with S.211 of that Act, which provides for fishing activities for the purpose of satisfying their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs. In managing the resource where native title has been formally recognised, the native title holders are engaged with to ensure their native title rights are respected and inform management of the State's fisheries resources.
New South Wales – Recreational (Catch) West et al. 2015.
Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing may not apply to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Victorian traditional owners may have rights under the Commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993 to hunt, fish, gather and conduct other cultural activities for their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs without the need to obtain a licence. Traditional Owners that have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) may also be authorised to fish without the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence. Outside of these arrangements, Indigenous Victorians can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise fishing for specific Indigenous cultural ceremonies or events (for example, different catch and size limits or equipment). There were no Indigenous permits granted in 2017 and hence no Indigenous catch recorded.
South Australia – Recreational (Catch) Giri and Hall 2015.
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