Plectropomus spp. & Variola spp.

  • Pia Bessell-Browne (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Ashley Williams (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • Thor Saunders (Department of Primary Industry and Resources, Northern Territory)
  • Stephen Newman (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)

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Stocks of Coral Trout are sustainable in Commonwealth waters and in the NT, WA and QLD’s Coral Reef Fin Fishery. They are undefined in QLD’s Gulf of Carpentaria. This is a combined assessment for five coral trout and two coronation trout species. The main commercial catch comes from QLD.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Commonwealth Torres Strait Finfish Fishery TSFF Sustainable Management strategy evaluation
Torres Strait Finfish Fishery (CTH)
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Stock Structure

The Coral Trout species complex, part of the family Epinephelidae, is found throughout Australia and is comprised of: Common Coral Trout (Plectropomus leopardus), Barcheek Coral Trout (P. maculatus), Bluespotted Coral Trout (P. laevis), Passionfruit Coral Trout (P. areolatus), Highfin Coral Trout (P. oligocanthus), Yellow-edge Coronation Trout (Variola louti) and White-edge Coronation Trout (V. albimarginata), with the Passionfruit Coral Trout not being found in the Northern Territory. The biological stock structures of these species are species-specific and spatially complex [Bergenius et al. 2005, Bergenius et al. 2006, van Herwerden et al. 2006, van Herwerden et al. 2009], and remain uncertain for some species.

Here, assessment of stock status for this multispecies group is presented at the management unit level—Torres Strait Finfish Fishery (Commonwealth); Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery and Gulf of Carpentaria (Queensland); and at the jurisdictional level—Western Australia and Northern Territory.

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Stock Status

Torres Strait Finfish Fishery

Annual commercial catches of Coral Trout in the Torres Strait Finfish Fishery (Commonwealth) (TSFF) have remained below 50 tonnes (t) since 2007. The Coral Trout stock in the TSFF has not been formally assessed, but a management strategy evaluation (MSE) was undertaken for the stock using catch data up to 2004 [Williams et al. 2007, Williams et al. 2011]. Four constant-catch scenarios, ranging from 80 to 170 t, were evaluated. The biomass in 2014 was estimated to be more than 60 per cent of assumed unfished level, and all catch scenarios achieved a biomass of at least 70 per cent of the unfished level, by 2025.

Although changes in the management and operation of the fishery since the MSE was completed may have diminished the relevance of the results for informing current management, the above evidence indicates that the biomass of this management unit stock is unlikely to be recruitment impaired [Marton et al. 2017]. The lower level of harvest in recent years is unlikely to cause the management unit to become recruitment impaired [Marton et al. 2017].

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the multispecies Torres Strait Finfish Fishery (Commonwealth) management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Coral Trout biology [Ferreira 1995, Frisch et al. 2016, Heupel et al. 2010, Kailola et al. 1993, Mapleston et al. 2009, Mapstone 2004, Samoilys 1997, Williams et al. 2008]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
CORAL TROUTS Plectropomus leopardus: 17 years, ~650 mm FL P. maculatus: 13 years, ~650 mm FL P. laevis: 16 years, ~1 150 mm FL P. areolatus: 14 years, ~650 mm FL Variola louti: 7 years, ~520 mm FL V. albimarginata: 12 years, ~380 mm FL All species are protogynous hermaphrodites (individuals are born female and later become male). Size at maturity and sex change also vary by location. P. leopardus: female ~280 mm FL, male ~500 mm FL P. maculatus: female ~300 mm FL, male ~ 440 mm FL P
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Coral Trout

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Fishing methods
Management methods
Method Commonwealth
Catch restrictions
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Vessel restrictions
Commercial 25.75t in TSFF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown
Torres Strait Finfish Fishery (CTH)

Commonwealth Data Provided for the Commonwealth and Queensland align with the 2014–15 financial year.

Western Australia and Northern Territory Data provided for Western Australia and the Northern Territory align with the 2017 calendar year.

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.

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, Fisheries and Forestry (Queensland), and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. The PZJA also manages non-Indigenous commercial fishing in the Torres Strait.

Western Australia – Commercial (management methods) In Western Australia, different zones within fisheries may have different effort allocations.

Western Australia – Active Vessels Data is confidential as there were fewer than three vessels operating in PFTIMF, PTMF and WCDGDLIMF.

Western Australia – Recreational (Catch) Boat-based recreational catch if from 1 September 2015–31 August 2016. These data are derived from those reported in Ryan et al. 2017.

Western Australia – Recreational (management methods) A Recreational Fishing from Boat Licence is required for the use of a powered boat to fish or to transport catch or fishing gear to or from a land-based fishing location.

Western Australia – 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.

Northern Territory – Charter (management methods) In the Northern Territory, charter operators are regulated through the same management methods as the recreational sector but are subject to additional limits on license and passenger numbers.

Northern Territory – Indigenous (management methods) The Fisheries Act 1988 (NT), specifies that “…without derogating from any other law in force in the Territory, nothing in a provision of this Act or an instrument of a judicial or administrative character made under it limits the right of Aboriginals who have traditionally used the resources of an area of land or water in a traditional manner from continuing to use those resources in that area in that manner”.

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) 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.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Coral Trout - note confidential catch not shown

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  1. Australian Institute of Marine Science 2018, Long-term Reef Monitoring Program – Annual summary report in coral reef condition for 2017–18
  2. Bergenius, MA, Begg, GA and Mapstone, BD 2006, The use of otolith morphology to indicate the stock structure of common Coral Trout (Plectropomus leopardus) on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Fishery Bulletin, 104: 498–511.
  3. Bergenius, MAJ, Mapstone, BD, Begg, GA and Murchie, CD 2005, The use of otolith chemistry to determine stock structure of three epinepheline serranid coral reef fishes on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Fisheries Research, 72: 253–270.
  4. DPIRD 2017, North Coast demersal scalefish resource harvest strategy 2017–2021. Version 1.0. Fisheries Management Paper No. 285. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Government of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. 35p.
  5. Ferreira, BP 1995, Reproduction of the common Coral Trout Plectropomus leopardus (Serranidae: Epinephelinae) from the central and northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Bulletin of Marine Science, 56: 653–669.
  6. Frisch, AJ, Cameron, DS, Pratchett, MS, Williamson, DH, Williams, AJ, Reynolds, AD, Hoey, AS, Rizzari, JR, Evans, L, Kerrigan, B, Muldoon G, Welch, DJ and Hobbs, J-PA, 2016, Key aspects of the biology, fisheries and management of Coral grouper, Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 26: 303–325.
  7. Heupel, MR, Williams, AJ, Welch, DJ, Davies CR, Adams, S, Carlos, G and Mapstone, BD 2010, Demography of a large exploited grouper, Plectropomus laevis: Implications for fisheries management, Marine and Freshwater Research, 61: 184–195.
  8. Hughes, T 2010, Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility milestone report for program 2.5i.3, report to the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
  9. Johnson, JE and Welch, DJ 2010, Marine fisheries management in a changing climate: a review of vulnerability and future options, Reviews in Fisheries Science, 18: 106–124.
  10. Kailola, PJ, Williams, MJ, Stewart, PC, Reichelt, RE, McNee, A and Grieve, C 1993, Australian fisheries resources, Bureau of Resource Sciences and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
  11. Leigh, GM, Campbell, AB, Lunow, CP and O’Neill, MF 2014, Stock assessment of the Queensland east coast common coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) fishery, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.
  12. Mapleston, A, Currey, LM, Williams, AJ, Pears, R, Simpfendorfer, CA, Penny, AL, Tobin, A and Welch D 2009, Comparative biology of key inter-reefal serranid species on the Great Barrier Reef. Project Milestone Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns, 55pp.
  13. Mapstone, BD 2004, The effects of line fishing on the Great Barrier Reef and evaluations of alternative potential management strategies, Technical report 54, CRC Reef Research Centre, CSIRO Marine Research and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Townsville.
  14. Marton, N, Williams, AJ and Mazur, K 2017, Torres Strait Finfish Fishery, in H Patterson, R Noriega, L Georgeson, J Larcombe and R Curtotti (eds), Fishery status reports 2017, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra, 305–315
  15. Newman, SJ, Brown, JI, Fairclough, DV, Wise, BS, Bellchambers, LM, Molony, BW, Lenanton, RCJ, Jackson, G, Smith, KA, Gaughan, DJ, Fletcher, WJ, McAuley, RB and Wakefield, CB 2018, A risk assessment and prioritisation approach to the selection of indicator species for the assessment of multi-species, multi-gear, multi-sector fishery resources. Marine Policy, 88: 11–22.
  16. Newman, SJ, Wakefield, C, Skepper, C, Boddington, D, Jones, R and Smith, E 2018, North Coast Demersal Resource Status Report 2017. pp. 127-133. In: DJ Gaughan and K Santoro, (eds.). Status Reports of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Western Australia 2016/17: The State of the Fisheries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, Perth, Australia. 237p.
  17. Pratchett MS, Hoey AS, Wilson SK 2014, Reef degradation and the loss of critical ecosystem goods and serviced provided by coral reef fishes. Current opinion in environmental sustainability, 7: 37–43
  18. Pratchett, MS, Messmer, V, Reynolds, A, Clark, TD, Munday, PL, Tobin, AJ and Hoey, AS 2013, Effects of climate change on reproduction, larval development, and adult health of coral trout (Plectropomus spp.), James Cook University, Townsville.
  19. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2018, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop Proceedings 2018. Species Summaries. 19-20 June 2018, Brisbane.
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  21. Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai, EK, Smallwood, CB, Taylor, SM, Wise, BS 2017, Statewide survey of boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2015/16. Fisheries research Report No. 287. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Government of Western Australia, Perth. 
  22. Samoilys, MA 1997, Periodicity of spawning aggregations of coral trout Plectropomus leopardus (Pisces: Serranidae) on the northern Great Barrier Reef, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 160: 149–159.
  23. Tobin, A, Schlaff, A, Tobin, R, Penny, A, Ayling, T, Ayling, A, Krause, B, Welch, D, Sutton, S, Sawynok, W, Marshall, N, Marshall, P and Maynard, J 2010, Adapting to change: minimising uncertainty about the effects of rapidly-changing environmental conditions on the Queensland Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2008/103, Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, James Cook University, Townsville.
  24. van Herwerden, L, Choat, JH, Dudgeon, CL, Carlos, G, Newman, SJ, Frisch, A and van Oppen, M 2006, Contrasting patterns of genetic structure in two species of the Coral Trout Plectropomus (Serranidae) from east and west Australia: introgressive hybridization or ancestral polymorphisms, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 41: 420–435.
  25. van Herwerden, L, Choat, JH, Newman, SJ, Lerray, M and Hillesroy, G 2009, Complex patterns of population structure and recruitment of Plectropomus leopardus (Pisces: Epinephelidae) in the Indo-West Pacific: implications for fisheries management, Marine Biology, 156: 1595–1607.
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Downloadable reports

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