Plectropomus spp. & Variola spp.

  • Thor Saunders (Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Northern Territory)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Ian Butler (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • Ian Butler (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science)
  • Fabian Trinnie (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Stephen Newman (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)

Date Published: June 2021

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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
Queensland Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery Sustainable

Stock Assessment, standardised catch rate, catch

Queensland Gulf of Carpentaria Undefined Catch
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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); 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

Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery

Common Coral Trout, Plectropomus leopardus dominates catches in the Reef Line Fishery (Queensland) [Leigh et al. 2014]. Other species such as Plectropomus. maculata are also caught in inshore regions by both the recreational and commercial sectors. The level of this contribution of other species to the overall harvest of Coral Trouts may warrant further investigation. The most recent stock assessment of Common Coral Trout conducted in 2020 based on calendar year data from 1961 to 2019 estimated that the biomass was 59 per cent of the unfished (1961) level [Campbell and Northrop 2020]. Annual harvest levels have been consistently below the estimated maximum sustainable yield (MSY) (1607 t). Over the last five years, 2015 to 2019, the Queensland total harvest averaged 1 027 t per year, including 839 t by the commercial sector, 65 t by the charter sector, 113 t by the recreational sector, and 11 t by Indigenous fishers [Campbell et al. 2020, QDAF 2020]. Approximately 33 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is protected from fishing, providing additional protection to the biomass of this stock. The above evidence indicated that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.

The Reef line fishery harvest strategy: 2020 -2025 manages fishing mortality for Common Coral Trout through setting sustainable catch limits [QDAF 2020]. Current total catch levels (958 t) are approximately 40 per cent lower than the estimated MSY (1 607 t) [Campbell and Northrop 2020] and below the total allowable commercial catch (TACC). In 2019, the total allowable TACC was set at 1 163 t based on advice from the 2019 stock assessment and set at a maximum economic yield target of 60 per cent of unfished biomass [Campbell et al. 2019]. As a precaution, QDAF also applied an additional buffer in the TACC setting process to account for scientific uncertainty associated with the assessment model. Since 2013–14, there have been three mass coral bleaching events, five severe cyclones and multiple crown of thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) that have reduced coral cover throughout the GBR [AIMS 2018; GBRMPA 2019, 2020], reducing habitat and prey availability for Coral Trout [Tobin et al. 2010, Pratchett et al. 2014, Rogers et al. 2018]. Bleaching events can also influence Coral Trout growth rates [Hughes 2010], and spawning output [Johnson and Welsh 2010, Pratchett et al. 2013]. Loss of coral reef habitat and reductions in complexity have been found to result in reductions in fisheries productivity of approximately 35 per cent [Rogers et al. 2018]. Ongoing declines in coral cover may reduce the carrying capacity of GBR for Coral Trout species, which may influence the sustainability of this stock in the future. Setting the biomass target at 60 per cent through the TACC aims to provide additional resilience to the spawning stock from adverse environmental impacts. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the multispecies Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery (Queensland) management unit is classified as a sustainable stock

Gulf of Carpentaria

Coral Trouts are not targeted in Queensland-managed commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Carpentaria (GOC). They are taken as by-product in the Developmental Fin Fish Trawl Fishery (Queensland) and Gulf of Carpentaria Line Fishery (Queensland), but only small catches are reported [Bessell-Browne et al. 2018; QFISH 2020]. Coral Trout is a popular recreational species for GOC residents and visiting fishers who target reef fish, but estimates of the recreational catch are uncertain due to the small sample size. They are also taken by the charter sector in the GOC in small quantities, averaging less than 0.5 tonnes (t) per year over the last ten years. There is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the multispecies GOC (Queensland) management unit is classified as an undefined 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)
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
Midwater Trawl
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Queensland
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Catch restrictions
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Vessel restrictions
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Commercial 734.62t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 223 t (2018-19)

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 2017–31 August 2018. These data are derived from those reported in Ryan et al. 2019.

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 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.

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) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Coral Trout - note confidential catch not shown

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