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Eastern Rock Lobster

Sagmariasus verreauxi

  • Geoff Liggins (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 New South Wales Rock Lobster Fishery NSWRLF Sustainable Biomass, CPUE, catch as percentage of TACC, spawning stock abundance (FIS-based), puerulus recruitment (FIS-based), size structure 
NSWRLF
New South Wales Lobster Fishery (NSW)
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Stock Structure

Eastern Rock Lobster (Sagmariasus verreauxi)1 occurs on rocky reef and sand/mud substrates in depths of less than 1 m to around 200 m, from southern Queensland to Port MacDonnell in South Australia, including around Tasmania. The greatest abundances and the only significant catches occur along the New South Wales coast, where Eastern Rock Lobster is taken by commercial and recreational fishers2,3. The species also occurs off New Zealand, predominantly around the North Island1,4.

The spawning stock of Eastern Rock Lobster in Australia is restricted to the north coast of New South Wales. Following spawning and a nine-month larval phase (pelagic phyllosoma larvae), puerulus post-larvae recruit to shallow inshore reefs along the entire New South Wales coast. This suggests a single New South Wales (Australian) biological stock. Genetic studies have provided preliminary evidence that the stocks off Australia and New Zealand may be discrete populations5,6. A current project, using contemporary genetic techniques, is re-examining the connectivity between Australian and New Zealand populations; and among New South Wales, Victorian and Tasmanian components of the Australian population of Eastern Rock Lobster.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the biological stock level—New South Wales Rock Lobster Fishery.

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Stock Status

New South Wales Rock Lobster Fishery

Following concerns about the sustainability of the Eastern Rock Lobster resource in the early-1990s, stock abundance has responded positively to management initiatives, including the introduction of a maximum legal length, individually numbered management tags, share management and a total allowable commercial catch (TACC)2,3,7–9.

The annual TACC has effectively been taken (that is, more than 95 per cent caught) each year since 2004–05, indicating that the TACC has been limiting catch. TACC has increased from 102 tonnes (t) in 2004–05 to 160 t in 2015–16. Catch during the most recent complete quota year (August 2014–July 2015) was 149.8 t, marginally below the 2014–15 TACC of 150 t. Catch per unit effort has increased approximately four-fold since a low point in the early-1990s and is currently the greatest observed during the past four decades. Abundance of spawning stock, estimated from a fishery-independent trap-based survey, increased approximately four-fold between the late-1990s–early-2000s and the most recent survey during 2014–15. Based on an annual survey of puerulus abundance along the New South Wales coast, recruitment of pueruli has shown interannual fluctuations but also an increasing linear trend during the past two decades, approximately doubling since the mid-1990s2.

A length-structured model of the lobster population and the fishery provides annual estimates of stock biomass and depletion of biomass relative to pre-exploitation levels, and a prospective risk analysis of the likely consequence for biomass of alternative future TACCs. The base-case scenario of the most recent assessment2 estimated that spawning biomass (SB) at the commencement of the 2014–15 season was 34 per cent (90 per cent confidence interval = 24–46 per cent) of the unfished (1884–85) level, having increased four-fold (median SB2014–15/SB1994–95 = 4.18; 90 per cent confidence interval = 3.30–5.22) since 1994–95. An alternative scenario of the model, in which recent recruitment was increased to better represent observed recruitment to the fishery, provided greater estimates of current spawning biomass. The stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished.

Based on the prospective risk analysis of the consequences of alternative future catches, an independent Total Allowable Catch Committee9 sets TACCs annually to maintain the spawning biomass above the biological reference point of 25 per cent of unfished biomass. The current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the New South Wales Rock Lobster Fishery biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Biology

Biology
Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Eastern Rock Lobster 30+ years; 260 mm  CL  Females: 167 mm  CL

Eastern Rock Lobster biology3,10,11

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Distributions

Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern Rock Lobster

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Tables

Fishing methods
New South Wales
Commercial
Rock Lobster And Crayfish Traps And Pots
Indigenous
Diving
Rock Lobster And Crayfish Traps And Pots
Recreational
Diving
Rock Lobster And Crayfish Traps And Pots
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Commercial
Demerit points, share confiscation
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Management tags
Size limit
Spatial closures
Total allowable catch
Vessel restrictions
Indigenous
Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Size limit
Spatial closures
Recreational
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Size limit
Spatial closures
Active vessels
New South Wales
77 in NSWRLF
NSWRLF
New South Wales Lobster Fishery (NSW)
Catch
New South Wales
Commercial 149.82t in NSWRLF
Recreational 16 t (2013–14), Unknown
NSWRLF
New South Wales Lobster Fishery (NSW)

Indigenous (management method)ab Active vesselsc Recreational (catch)d

 

 

a The 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 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 (1)(c1), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority.

c Seventy-seven fishing businesses reported catches during the 2014–15 fishing season.

d Recreational catch of 16 t is based on (i) an estimate of 23 216 (standard error±12 501) lobsters taken by recreational fishers during 2013–1412 and (ii) an assumed mean weight of 689 g per lobster (mean weight caught by commercial fishers in depths less than10 m during 2013–14).

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Eastern Rock Lobster

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • Bycatch from the commercial fishery is minimal (based on data from observer surveys), and fishing with traps is likely to result in minimal physical disturbance to benthic habitats relative to the impacts of sea and swell in a high-energy coastal environment.
  • Loss of traps in the deepwater component of the fishery, associated with loss of headgear, results in some ghost-fishing mortality of Rock Lobsters. This unproductive mortality is the subject of current research, and is being mitigated through the adoption of sacrificial panels in traps and acoustic release technology to provide ‘at call’ access to submerged headgear13.
  • Entanglement of whales and other cetaceans in line or rope is documented for waters off the New South Wales coast in a database maintained by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service14. However, no such entanglements have been directly attributed to the lobster fishery. Moreover, the risk of whales becoming entangled in the head-gear (ropes and floats) of Lobster traps on the mid- and outer-continental shelf off New South Wales has been significantly reduced during the past two decades due to the practice of submerging head-gear deep within the water column using galvanic time releases and acoustic releases. This practice effectively limits the length of rope and the time that rope is exposed in the water column, thereby minimising the likelihood of encounter and entanglement of whales.
  • Physical impacts of fish and prawn trawling on benthic habitat inhabited by lobsters (in particular, low relief reefs on the mid-continental shelf) may have negative effects on the lobster population and subsequent catches at affected locations.
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Environmental effects on Eastern Rock Lobster

  • The East Australia Current is the dominant oceanographic feature off south eastern Australia. Increases in water temperature and the movement of anti-cyclonic eddies further southward have been observed over the past 60 years and these trends are projected to continue into the future15,16. Such projections potentially affect the distribution of spawning stock, larval dispersal, and the strength and distribution of recruitment of peuruli. This would influence the distribution and abundance of juvenile Lobsters recruiting to the fishable stock, and subsequently spatial and temporal patterns of catch in the fishery.
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References

  1. 1 Booth, J 2011, Spiny Lobster: through the eyes of the giant packhorse, Victoria University Press, Wellington.
  2. 2 Liggins, GW, Miller, ME and Ballinger, G 2015, Resource assessment—lobster: prepared for the total allowable catch setting and Review Committee process for the determination for the total allowable commercial catch of NSW lobster for the 2015/16 season, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Sydney.
  3. 3 Montgomery, SS and Liggins, GW 2013, Recovery of the Eastern Rock Lobster Sagmariasus verreauxi off New South Wales, Australia, Marine Biology Research, 9: 104–115.
  4. 4 Kensler, CB 1967, The distribution of Spiny Lobsters in New Zealand waters (Crustacea: Decapoda: Palinuridae), New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 1: 412–420.
  5. 5 Brasher, DJ, Ovenden, JD, Booth, JD and White, RWG 1992, Genetic subdivision of Australian and New Zealand populations of Jasus verreauxi (Decapoda: Palinuridae)—preliminary evidence from the mitochondrial genome, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 26: 53–58.
  6. 6 Ovenden, JR and Brasher, DJ 1994, Stock identity of the Red (Jasus edwardsii) and Green (J. verreauxi) Rock Lobsters inferred from mitochondrial DNA analysis, in BF Phillips, JS Cobb and J Kittaka (ed.s), Spiny Lobster management, Blackwell, London, pp 230–249.
  7. 7 New South Wales Department of Primary Industries 2000, Fisheries management (Lobster share management plan) regulation 2000, NSW DPI, Sydney.
  8. 8 New South Wales Department of Primary Industries 2007, Fishery Management Strategy for the NSW Lobster Fishery, NSW DPI, Sydney.
  9. 9 New South Wales Government 2015, New South Wales Total Allowable Catch Committee report and determination for 2015/2016—Rock Lobster Fishery, Sydney.
  10. 10 Montgomery, SS 1992, Sizes at first maturity and at onset of breeding in female Jasus verreauxi (Decapoda: Palinuridae) from New South Wales waters, Australia, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 3: 1373–1379.
  11. 11 Montgomery, SS, Liggins, GW, Craig, JR and McLeod, JR 2009, Growth of the Spiny Lobster Jasus verreauxi (Decapoda: Palinuridae) off the east coast of Australia, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 43: 113–123.
  12. 12 West, LD, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle, JM and Ochwada-Doyle, FA 2015, Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14, Fisheries Final Report Series 149, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Wollongong.
  13. 13 Fisheries Research and Development Corporation 2014, Tactical research fund: industry-extension of acoustic release technology for at-call access to submerged head-gear in the NSW Rock Lobster Fishery, FRDC, Canberra.
  14. 14 Lloyd, HB and Ross GA 2015, Long-term trends in cetacean incidents in New South Wales Australia, Australian Zoologist, 37: 492–500.
  15. 15 Hobday, AJ and Lough, JM 2011, Projected climate change in Australian marine and freshwater environments, Marine and Freshwater Research, 62: 1000–1014.
  16. 16 Ridgeway, KR 2007, Long-term trend and decadal variability of the southward penetration of the East Australia Current, Geophysical Research Letters, 34: L13613.

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