Snapper (2018)

Chrysophrys auratus

  • Anthony Fowler (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Gary Jackson (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • John Stewart (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Paul Hamer (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)

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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.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Queensland Queensland ECIFFF, RRFFF Depleted Estimated biomass, standardised catch rates, length and age composition, fishing mortality rate, catch, effort, CPUE
East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)
Rocky Reef Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)
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Stock Structure

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.

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Stock Status


The most recent integrated stock assessment for East Coast Snapper [Wortmann et al. 2018] that included data from 1880 to 2016 from the entire biological stock (Queensland and New South Wales) produced a range of relative biomass estimates that varied between 10 per cent and 45 per cent of unfished levels. The annual age-structured model partitioned the fishery into four sectors: New South Wales trap; New South Wales commercial line and charter; Queensland commercial line and charter, and, New South Wales and Queensland recreational. Model outputs for all line-fishing sectors estimated biomass to be below 20 per cent. In contrast, model scenarios using standardized New South Wales trap catch rates ranged between 20 per cent and 45 per cent of unfished levels, with the majority of estimates being above 30 per cent. 

Queensland harvests (all fishing sectors combined) approximately one third of the east coast Snapper stock shared with New South Wales. The majority of the harvest from the Queensland part of the biological stock is taken by line fishing. Standardised commercial catch rates have been declining since 2006 [QDAF 2018]. Fishery-dependent biological monitoring to 2017 shows truncated commercial and recreational age frequencies with declining proportions of large mature fish in the catch. Based on the relevant model scenarios for Queensland using line catch rates, the stock assessment estimated the spawning biomass of the stock in 2016 at between 10 per cent and 23 per cent of the virgin level. The stock is therefore considered to be recruitment impaired. 

Commercial harvest (97 per cent line caught) of Snapper in 2017 was 56 t; a level approximately 15 t (22 per cent) lower than 2016 and 34 per cent lower than the previous 10 year average [QDAF 2018]. The number of active line commercial fishing licences and line fishing effort days have continued to decrease over the last decade, indicating a reduction in commercial fishing pressure. Estimated total harvest across the whole stock from the stock assessment shows high fishing pressure in the 1950s to 1990s (above levels to sustain BMSY). Modelling suggests that maintaining total harvest at current levels will not rebuild stocks in Queensland, given the likely depleted state of the stock and low estimated spawning ratios. 

The estimated recreational harvest decreased by 34 per cent from 2010–11 (around 84 000 fish) to 2013–14 (around 56 000 fish) [Taylor et al. 2012, Webley et al. 2015]. Recreational fishing is subject to a possession limit of four fish per person (only one over 700 mm). Fishing pressure is further regulated by a minimum legal size which allows a proportion of mature fish to spawn before becoming available to the fishery. Despite the variety of mechanisms aimed at reducing fishing mortality of Snapper in Queensland, the current level of fishing mortality is expected to prevent the stock recovering from its recruitment impaired state. 

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Snapper in Queensland is classified as a depleted stock

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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 
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Snapper
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Fishing methods
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Queensland
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Size limit
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Size limit
Spatial closures
Commercial 1.56t in ECIFFF, 54.35t in RRFFF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 85 t (2013–14)
East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)
Rocky Reef Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)

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 WalesIndigenous (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 WalesRecreational (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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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Snapper - note confidential catch not shown
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  1. Bastow, TP, Jackson, G, Edmonds, JS 2002, Elevated salinity and isotopic composition of fish otolith carbonate: stock delineation of snapper, Pagrus auratus, in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Marine Biology 141: 801–806.
  2. Coutin, PC, Cashmore, S, and Sivakumuran, KP, 2003, Assessment of the snapper fishery in Victoria. Final report to Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Australia. Project No 97/127., p. 210.
  3. Crisafulli, BM, Fairclough, DV, Keay, IS, Lewis, P, How, JR, Ryan, KL, Taylor, SM and Wakefield, CB in press, Does a spatio-temporal closure to fishing Chrysophrys auratus (Sparidae) spawning aggregations also protect individuals during migration? Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
  4. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2018, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop Proceedings 2018. Species Summaries, 19-20 June 2018, Brisbane. 
  5. Department of Fisheries 2015, Harvest strategy policy and operational guidelines for the aquatic resources of Western Australia, Fisheries Management Paper No. 271, Department of Fisheries Western Australia, Perth.
  6. Donnellan, SC and McGlennon, D 1996, Stock identification and discrimination in Snapper (Pagrus auratus) in southern Australia, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 94/168, South Australian Research and Development Institute, Adelaide.
  7. Edmonds, JS, Steckis, RA, Moran, MJ, Caputi, N and Morita, M 1999, Stock delineation of Pink Snapper Pagrus auratus and Tailor Pomatomus saltatrix from Western Australia by analysis of stable isotope and strontium/calcium ratios in otolith carbonate, Journal of Fish Biology, 55: 243–259.
  8. Fairclough, D, Johnson C and Lai, E 2009, West Coast Demersal Scalefish Fishery, in WJ Fletcher and K Santoro (eds) 2009, State of the fisheries report 2008/09, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  9. Fairclough, D, Walters, S and Holtz, M 2018, West coast demersal scalefish resource status report 2017, 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.
  10. Fairclough, DV, Edmonds, JS, Jackson, G, Lenanton, RCJ, Kemp, J, Molony, BW, Keay, IS, Crisafulli, BM, and Wakefield, CB 2013, A comparison of the stock structures of two exploited demersal teleosts, employing complementary methods of otolith element analysis. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 439: 181–195
  11. Fairclough, DV, Molony, BW, Crisafulli, BM, Keay, IS, Hesp, SA and Marriott, RJ 2014, Status of demersal finfish stocks on the west coast of Australia, Fisheries Research Report 253, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  12. Fisher, E 2013, Tools for assessing data-limited fisheries and communicating stock status information, PhD thesis, Murdoch University, Perth.
  13. Fowler, AJ 2016, The influence of fish movement on regional fishery production and stock structure for South Australia’s Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) fishery. Final Report to FRDC (Project No. 2012/020). 181 pp.
  14. Fowler, AJ, Hamer, PA and Kemp J 2017, Age-related otolith chemistry profiles help resolve demographics and meta-population structure of a widely-dispersed, coastal fishery species. Fisheries Research 189: 77–94.
  15. Fowler, AJ, McGarvey, R, Burch, P, Feenstra, JE, Jackson, WB and Lloyd MT 2013, Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) fishery, Fishery assessment report to Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences) publication F2007/000523-3, SARDI research report series 713, SARDI, Adelaide.
  16. Fowler, AJ, McGarvey, R, Carroll, J, Feenstra, JE, Jackson, WB and Lloyd MT 2016, Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) fishery, Fishery assessment report to Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. F2007/000523-4. SARDI Research Report Series No. 930. 82 pp.
  17. Gardner, MJ and Chaplin, JA 2011, Genetic (microsatellite) determination of the stock structures of the Baldchin grouper (Choerodon rubescens) and Pink snapper (Pagrus auratus) in Western Australian waters, including an assessment of stock boundaries, recruitment sinks and sources and environmental influences on gene flow. Final Report, WAMSI Sub-project 4.4.2-b. Murdoch University, Perth.
  18. Gardner, MJ, Chaplin, JA, Potter, I, Fairclough, DV and Jackson, G 2017, The genetic structure of a marine teleost, Chrysophrys auratus, in a large, heterogeneous marine embayment. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 1411–1425.
  19. Gillanders, BM 2002, Connectivity between juvenile and adult fish populations: do adults remain near their recruitment estuaries? Marine Ecology Progress Series, 240:215–223.
  20. Giri, K, and Hall, K, 2015, South Australian Recreational Fishing Survey. Fisheries Victoria Internal report Series No. 62.
  21. Hamer, P and Conron, S 2016, Snapper stock assessment 2016, Fisheries Victoria Science Report Series 10, Fisheries Victoria, Queenscliff.
  22. Hamer, PA, Acevedo, S, Jenkins, GP and Newman, A 2011, Connectivity of a large embayment and coastal fishery: spawning aggregations in one bay source local and broad-scale fishery replenishment, Journal of Fish Biology, 78: 1090–1109.
  23. Harasti, D, Lee, KA, Gallen, C, Hughes, JM and Stewart, J 2015, Movements, home range and site fidelity of snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) within a no-take marine protected area. PLoS One 10(11): e0142454
  24. Jackson, G, Brown, J and Zilles, H. 2015, Inner Shark Bay Scalefish Fishery Status Report, in Fletcher, WJ and Santoro , K (eds), Status reports of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Western Australia 2014/15: The State of the Fisheries, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia, Perth.
  25. Jackson, G, Norriss JV, Mackie MC and Hall NG 2010, Spatial variation in life history characteristics of snapper (Pagrus auratus) within Shark Bay, Western Australia. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 44: 1–15
  26. Jackson, G, Zilles, H. and Turner, S. 2018 Gascoyne Demersal Scalefish Fishery Status Report, in Gaughan, DJ and Santoro, K (eds), 2018 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.
  27. Johnson, MS, Creagh, S and Moran, M 1986, Genetic subdivision of stocks of Snapper, Chrysophrys unicolor, in Shark Bay, Western Australia, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 37: 337–345.
  28. Kailola, PJ, Williams, MJ, Stewart, PC, Reichelt, RE, McNee, A and Grieve, C 1993, Australian fisheries resources, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Department of Primary Industries and Energy and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
  29. Meggs, LB and Austin CM 2003, Low allozyme variation in Snapper, Pagrus auratus, in Victoria, Australia, Fisheries Management and Ecology, 10: 155–162.
  30. Moran, M, Burton, C and Jenke, J 2003, Long-term movement patterns of continental shelf and inner gulf Snapper (Pagrus auratus, Sparidae) from tagging in the Shark Bay region of Western Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, 54: 913–922.
  31. Morgan, JA, Sumpton, W, Jones, A, Campbell, AB, Stewart, J, Hamer, P, and Ovenden JR 2018, Assessment of genetic structure among Australian east coast populations of snapper, Chrysophrys auratus (Sparidae). Marine and Freshwater Research, in press.
  32. Norriss, J, Moran, M and Jackson, G 2012 Tagging studies reveal restricted movement of snapper (Pagrus auratus) within Shark Bay, supporting fine scale fisheries management Marine and Freshwater Research, 63: 1191–1199
  33. Norriss, JV, Fisher, EA, Hesp, SA, Jackson, G, Coulson, PG, Leary, T and Thomson AW 2016, Status of inshore demersal scalefish stocks on the South Coast of Western Australia Fisheries Research Report 276, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  34. Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai, EK, Smallwood, CB, Taylor, SM and 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, Western Australia.
  35. Sanders, MJ 1974, Tagging study indicates two stocks of Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) off south east Australia, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 8: 371–374.
  36. Steer, MA, Fowler, AJ, McGarvey, R, Feenstra, J, Westlake, EL, Matthews, D, Drew, M, Rogers, PJ and Earl, J 2018, Assessment of the South Australian Marine Scalefish Fishery in 2016. Report to PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2017/000427-1. SARDI Research Report Series No. 974. Pp 250.
  37. Steer, MA, McGarvey, R, Oxley, A, Fowler, AJ, Grammer, G, Ward, TM, Westlake, E, Matthews, D and Matthews, J 2017 Developing a fishery independent estimate of biomass for Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus). Final report to FRDC (Project No. 2014/019) 68 pp.
  38. Stewart, J, Rowling, K, Hegarty, A-M and Nuttall, A 2010, Size and age at sexual maturity of snapper Pagrus auratus in New South Wales 2008/09. Industry and Investment NSW – Fisheries Research Report Series No. 27. 38pp.
  39. Sumpton, WD, Ovenden, JR, Keenan CP and Street, R 2008, Evidence for a stock discontinuity of Snapper (Pagrus auratus) on the east coast of Australia, Fisheries Research, 94(1): 92–98.
  40. Sumpton, WD, Sawynok, B, Carstens, N 2003, Localised movement of snapper (Pagrus auratus, Sparidae) in a large subtropical marine embayment. Marine and Freshwater Research 54:923–930
  41. Taylor, S, Webley, J and McInnes K 2012, 2012 Statewide recreational Fishing Survey, Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland.
  42. Victorian Fisheries Authority 2017, Review of key Victorian fish stocks — 2017 Victorian Fisheries Authority Science Report Series No. 1.
  43. Wakefield, CB, Fairclough, DV, Lenanton, RCJ and Potter, IC 2011, Spawning and nursery habitat partitioning and movement patterns of Pagrus auratus (Sparidae) on the lower west coast of Australia, Fisheries Research 109: 243–251
  44. Wakefield, CB, Potter, IC, Hall NG, Lenanton RCJ, and Hesp SA 2015, Marked variations in reproductive characteristics of snapper (Chrysophrys auratus, Sparidae) and their relationship with temperature over a wide latitudinal range. ICES Journal of Marine Science 70: 2341–2349
  45. Wakefield, CB, Potter, IC, Hall NG, Lenanton RCJ, and Hesp SA 2016, Timing of growth zone formations in otoliths of snapper, Chrysophrys auratus, in subtropical and temperate waters differ and growth follows a parabolic relationship with latitude, ICES Journal of Marine Science 74: 180–192
  46. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland.
  47. 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, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Sydney.
  48. Wise, BS, St John, J and Lenanton, RC (eds) 2007, Spatial scales of exploitation among populations of demersal scalefish: implications for management, part 1, Stock status of the key indicator species for the demersal scalefish fishery in the West Coast Bioregion, Fisheries research report 163, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  49. Wortmann, J, O’Neill, MF, Sumpton, W and Stewart, J 2018, Stock assessment of Australian east coast snapper, Chrysophrys auratus. Predictions of stock status and reference points for 2016. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

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