Ornate Rock Lobster

Panulirus ornatus

  • Luke Maloney (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Thor Saunders (Department of Primary Industry and Resources, Northern Territory)
  • Simon de Lestang (Department of Fisheries, Western Australia)

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Commonwealth North-Eastern Australia TSRLF Sustainable Biomass, fishing mortality
Torres Strait Rock Lobster Fishery (CTH)
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Stock Structure

Ornate Rock Lobster populations in northern Queensland (managed by Queensland), the Coral Sea (managed by the Commonwealth) and the Torres Strait (managed by the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority) are thought to comprise a single North-eastern Australian biological stock, as a result of mixing of larvae in the Coral Sea1. Water movement models in Torres Strait predict that larvae are likely to be transported into the Gulf of Carpentaria2, indicating that the north-eastern stock encompasses this region as well. Stock assessments have not been carried out for the complete biological stock, but have been conducted on the various parts of it.

Although Ornate Rock Lobster is also present in northern Western Australia, biological stock structures in this region have not been studied and the relationship with the North-eastern Australian stock is unknown.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the biological stock level—North-eastern Australia; and at the management unit level—Western Australia.

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Stock Status

North-Eastern Australia

Stock status for the entire Ornate Rock Lobster biological stock has been established using evidence from the Torres Strait, Queensland and Coral Sea parts of the biological stock.

For the Torres Strait part of the biological stock, the most recent assessment3,4 estimated that spawning stock biomass in 2015 was 80 per cent of the unfished (1973) level4. This part of the stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished4. The model-generated nominal total allowable catch (TAC) for 2015 was 894 tonnes (t), of which 495 t was caught. This level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause this part of the stock to become recruitment overfished3.

For the Queensland part of the biological stock, the most recent stock assessment5 estimated that biomass at the start of 2008 was 60–70 per cent of the unfished (1988) level. A TAC of 195 t was introduced for the commercial fishery in 2009. The TAC was based on a conservative 80 per cent of the estimated maximum sustainable yield for the Queensland portion of the stock. The commercial catch since 2009 has been below the TAC6,7. This part of the stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished, and this level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause this part of the stock to become recruitment overfished.

No quantitative stock assessments have been carried out for the Coral Sea part of the biological stock, but there is only limited targeting of Ornate Rock Lobster in this area and catches are low. Estimates of density on Coral Sea reefs, inferred from fishers’ catch rates, suggest that lobster abundance is likely to be many times higher than would be required to support the total historical catch (less than 10 t)8. This part of the stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished. Additionally, no commercial catch was recorded in 2015. Therefore, this level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause this part of the biological stock to become recruitment overfished.

Only small annual catches (less than 200 kg) of Ornate Rock Lobster have been recorded in the Northern Territory under a developmental permit in the Gulf of Carpentaria. There has never been a targeted fishery for this species in this jurisdiction, and the small catches recorded are highly unlikely to influence the biomass of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the North-eastern Australian biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Ornate Rock Lobster biology9–11

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Ornate Rock Lobster 3–5+ years; >150 mm CL 2–3 years; ~100 mm CL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Ornate Rock Lobster

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Fishing methods
Management methods
Method Commonwealth
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Total allowable catch
Vessel restrictions
Gear restrictions
Active vessels
0 in CSF
Coral Sea Fishery (CTH)
Commercial 495.00t in TSRLF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown
Torres Strait Rock Lobster Fishery (CTH)

a Commonwealth – Recreational The Australian Government does not manage recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters. Recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters, under its management regulations.
b Commonwealth – Indigenous The Australian Government does not manage non-commercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters, with the exception of the Torres Strait. In general, non-commercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters. In the Torres Strait, both commercial and non-commercial Indigenous fishing is managed by the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (Commonwealth); the Department of Agriculture, and Fisheries (Queensland); and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. The PZJA also manages non-Indigenous commercial fishing in the Torres Strait.
c Queensland – Indigenous In Queensland, under the Fisheries Act 1994, Indigenous fishers 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.
d Indigenous (catch) This specifically refers to non-commercial Indigenous catch. Commercial Indigenous catch in the Torres Strait is included under ‘commercial’.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Ornate Rock Lobster - note confidential catch not shown

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • Fishing for Ornate Rock Lobster has little direct impact on the marine environment or other fish species, since hand-collection fishing methods allow careful selection of catch8. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery (Commonwealth) was granted export approval/accreditation on 7 May 2014 for a period of three years, which is valid until 4 May 2017. Associated with the recent approvals are recommendations for improving estimates of Ornate Rock Lobster harvest, developing and implementing long-term management arrangements (management plan), and developing resource-wide assessments of the stock.
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Environmental effects on Ornate Rock Lobster

  • The abundance of Ornate Rock Lobster is highly influenced by environmental conditions, which affect settlement and recruitment. Ocean current and wind patterns affect transport of larvae and create variability in abundance. These variations should be taken into account in setting total allowable catches1,10.
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  1. 1 Pitcher, CR, Turnbull, CT, Atfield, J, Griffin, D, Dennis, D and Skewes, T 2005, Biology, larval transport modelling and commercial logbook data analysis to support management of the NE Queensland rock lobster Panulirus ornatus fishery, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2002/008, CSIRO Marine Research, Brisbane.
  2. 2 Wolanski, E, Lambrechts, J, Thomas, C and Deleersnijder, E 2013, The net water circulation through Torres Strait, Continental Shelf Research, 64: 66–74.
  3. 3 Plagányi, ÉE, Dennis, D, Campbell, R, Haywood, M, Pillans, R, Tonks, M, Murphy, N and McLeod, I 2015a, Torres Strait rock lobster (TRL) fishery surveys and stock assessment: TRL fishery model, used to calculate the upcoming TAC updated using the 2014 survey data and the previous year’s CPUE data, AFMA Project 2013/803, June 2015 Milestone report, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Brisbane.
  4. 4 Plagányi, ÉE, Dennis, D and Campbell, R 2015b, 2015 updated assessment of the Tropical Rock Lobster (Panulirus ornatus) Fishery in the Torres Straits following November 2015 preseason survey, Report for presentation at TRL Resource Assessment Group teleconference, December 2015, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Brisbane.
  5. 5 Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation 2011, Annual status report 2011: Commercial Crayfish and Rocklobster Fishery, Queensland DEEDI, Brisbane.
  6. 6 Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2013, Commercial Crayfish and Rocklobster Fishery 2011 fishing year report, Queensland DAFF, Brisbane.
  7. 7 Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2016, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop 2016, 14–15 June 2016, Brisbane, Queensland DAF, Brisbane.
  8. 8 Williams, A and Mazur, K 2016, Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Fishery, in H Patterson, R Noriega, L Georgeson, I Stobutzki and R Curtotti (eds), Fishery Status Reports 2016, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra, 314–324.
  9. 9 Kailola, PJ, Williams, M, Stewart, P, Riechelt, R, McNee, A and Grieve, C 1993, Australian fisheries resources, Bureau of Resource Sciences & Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
  10. 10 MacFarlane, JW and Moore, R 1986, Reproduction of the ornate rock lobster, Panulirus ornatus (Fabricius), in Papua New Guinea, Marine and Freshwater Research, 37: 55–65.
  11. 11 Skewes, TD, Pitcher, CR and Dennis, DM 1997, Growth of ornate rock lobsters, Panulirus ornatus, in Torres Strait, Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, 48: 497–501.

Archived reports

Click the links below to view reports from other years for this fish.