Plectropomus spp. & Variola spp.

  • Chad Lunow (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Brooke D'Alberto (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • Fabian Trinnie (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Stephen Newman (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Grant Johnson (Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Northern Territory)

Date Published: June 2023

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Stocks of Coral Trout are sustainable in the Torres Strait, WA and QLD’s Reef Line Fishery. They are undefined in QLD’s Gulf of Carpentaria, and negligible in the NT. 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 Stock status Indicators
Northern Territory Northern Territory Negligible


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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 (Plectropomus maculatus), Bluespotted Coral Trout (Plectropomus laevis), Passionfruit Coral Trout (Plectropomus areolatus), Highfin Coral Trout (Plectropomus oligocanthus), Yellow-edge Coronation Trout (Variola louti) and White-edge Coronation Trout (Variola 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); Reef line Fishery and Gulf of Carpentaria (Queensland); and at the jurisdictional level—Western Australia and Northern Territory.

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Stock Status

Northern Territory

Stock status for the Northern Territory jurisdiction is reported as Negligible due to historically low catches from this region (less than 14 t), and because the stock is not subject to targeted fishing. Fishing is unlikely to be having a negative impact on the stock.

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

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)

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

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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Coral Trout

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Fishing methods
Northern Territory
Fish Trap
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Northern Territory
Limited entry
Passenger restrictions
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Total allowable catch
Vessel restrictions
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Northern Territory
Commercial 1.71t
Charter 2.2 t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational <10 t (2019)

Commonwealth – Commercial (Management Methods/Catch). Provided for the Commonwealth and align with the 2021–22 financial 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.

Northern Territory – Recreational (Catch). Northern Territory recreational catch data align with the 2019 calendar year [West et al. 2022].

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 (Northern Territory), specifies that: “Unless expressly provided otherwise, nothing in this Act derogates or limits the right of Aboriginal people who have traditionally used the resources of an area of land or water in a traditional manner to continue to use those resources in that area in that manner.”

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods). For more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

Queensland – Recreational Fishing (Catch). Data are based at the whole of Queensland level and derived from statewide recreational fishing surveys. Where possible, estimates have been converted to weight (tonnes) using best known conversion multipliers. Conversion factors may display regional or temporal variability.

Queensland – Commercial (Catch). Queensland commercial and charter data have been sourced from the commercial fisheries logbook program. Further information available through the Fisheries Summary Report https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/monitoring-research/data/queensland-fisheries-summary-report

Queensland – Commercial (Management Methods). Harvest strategies are available at: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/sustainable/harvest-strategy  

Western Australia – Recreational (Catch). Western Australia recreational catch data align with the 2021 calendar year.

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

Western Australia – Active Vessels. Data are 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 2017–31 August 2018. These data are derived from those reported in Ryan et al. 2022.

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 (management methods). Subject to the application of 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.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Coral Trout - note confidential catch not shown

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  1. AFMA 2019, ‘PZJA Torres Strait Finfish Resource Assessment Group meeting number 4, 13–14 March 2019’, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
  2. AFMA 2021, ‘PZJA Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Resource Assessment Group meeting 10, 18–19 November 2021’, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
  3. AFMA 2022, ‘Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Working Group meeting 10, 7–8 December 2022’, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Bessell-Browne, P, Williams, A, Saunders, T, and Newman, S 2018, CORAL TROUTS Plectropomus spp. & Variola spp., in Carolyn Stewardson, James Andrews, Crispian Ashby, Malcolm Haddon, Klaas Hartmann, Patrick Hone, Peter Horvat, Stephen Mayfield, Anthony Roelofs, Keith Sainsbury, Thor Saunders, John Stewart, Simon Nicol and Brent Wise (eds) 2018, Status of Australian fish stocks reports 2018, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
  7. Butler, I, D’Alberto B, and Tuynman H 2022, Torres Strait Finfish Fishery, in H Patterson, J Larcombe, J Woodhams and R Curtotti (eds), Fishery status reports 2022, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra.
  8. Campbell, AB, and Northrop, AR 2020, Stock Assessment of Common Coral Trout (Plectromomus leopardus) in Queensland, Technical Report, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  9. Dutra, L, Plagányi, E, Kenyon, R, Hutton, T, Murphy, N, Blamey, L, Edgar, S and Moeseneder, C 2021, Scoping a future project to address impacts from climate variability and change on key Torres Strait Fisheries, final report for project ‘Climate variability and change relevant to key fisheries resources in the Torres Strait’ to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, CSIRO.
  10. Evans, RD, van Herwerden, L, Russ, GR & Frisch, AJ 2010, ‘Strong genetic but not spatial subdivision of two reef fish species targeted by fishers on the Great Barrier Reef’, Fisheries Research, vol. 102, pp. 16–25.
  11. 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.
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  13. 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.
  14. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2020, Coral bleaching 101, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/reef-health/coral-bleaching-101, accessed 6 October 2020.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
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  22. QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, www.qfish.gov.au
  23. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2022, Statewide recreational fishing surveys. Recreational fishing catch estimates dashboard. Accessed September 2023.
  24. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2020, Reef line fishery harvest strategy: 2020–2025, Brisbane, Queensland.
  25. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2021, Management Advice Reef Line fishery 2021.
  26. Ryan KL, Lai EKM and Smallwood, CB 2022, Boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2020/21. Fisheries Research Report No. 327 Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia. 221pp.
  27. 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.
  28. Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019–20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.
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  30. 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.
  31. Wakefield, C, Trinnie, F, Skepper, C, Boddington, Newman, SJ, and Steele, A 2023, North Coast Demersal Resource Status Report 2022. pp. 167–176. In: Gaughan, D.J. and Santoro, K. (eds.), 2023. Status Reports of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Western Australia 2021/22: The State of the Fisheries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, Perth, Australia.
  32. West, LD, Stark, KE, Dysart, K & Lyle, JM 2022, Survey of recreational fishing in the Northern Territory: 2018 to 2019, Northern Territory Fisheries, Darwin.
  33. Williams, AJ, Begg, GA, Little, LR, Currey, LM, Ballagh, AC and Murchie, CD 2007, Evaluation of the eastern Torres Strait Reef Line Fishery, Technical report 1, Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, James Cook University, Townsville.
  34. Williams, AJ, Little, LR and Begg, GA 2011, Balancing indigenous and non-Indigenous commercial objectives in a coral reef finfish fishery, ICES Journal of Marine Science, vol. 68, no. 5, pp. 834–847.

Downloadable reports

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