Barramundi (2020)

Lates calcarifer

  • Mark Grubert (Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Northern Territory)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Fabian Trinnie (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Stephen Newman (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Olivia Whybird (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)

Date Published: June 2021

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Of the nine Barramundi stocks across WA, the NT and QLD targeted by commercial fishers, eight are sustainable. The South-East Coast stock at the species' cool-water range limits in southern QLD is undefined.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Western Australia Kimberley Gillnet and Barramundi Managed Fishery Sustainable

Catch, CPUE, effort

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Stock Structure

Barramundi (Lates calcarifer; also known as Asian sea bass) are a large, predatory fish within the family Centropomidae, that are found across most of the Indo-West Pacific region, from the Arabian Gulf to China, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea and northern Australia [FAO 2020]. They are protandrous hermaphrodites (maturing as males first, then changing sex to female; Moore [1979]) that exhibit individual variation in habitat utilisation/migratory patterns during their life history [Crook et al. 2016], with the exception of spawning events, which always occur in highly saline estuarine or marine waters. 

The different life history contingents described by Crook et al. [2016] include: 1) an “estuarine” contingent, that remains in marine and estuarine habitats; 2) a “catadromous, sequential hermaphrodite” contingent, that enters freshwater reaches for a period of time, then migrates downstream and changes sex in marine waters; and 3) a “catadromous, delayed female spawning” contingent, that enters freshwater reaches and changes sex in this environment before migrating downstream. 

Genetic stock structure of Barramundi is complex. Keenan [1994] described 16 subpopulations of this species (through allozyme analyses) across most of its Australian range, with each subpopulation encompassing an individual catchment, or several adjacent catchments. More recently, Jerry et al. [2013] and Loughnan et al. [2019] described 21 distinct subpopulations (through microsatellite analyses) from samples collected over a wider geographic range than that of Keenan [1994]; noting that both recent works were based on the same set of tissue samples, many of which were initially collated by Keenan [1994].  

Difficulties in obtaining relevant biological and catch-and-effort information from each biological stock in Western Australia and the Northern Territory precludes individual assessments of these stocks. Therefore, the assessments for these jurisdictions were undertaken at the level of the management unit (Kimberley Gillnet and Barramundi Managed Fishery, Western Australia; and Barramundi Fishery, Northern Territory). 

The state of Queensland initiated a long-term monitoring program for Barramundi in 2000, with sampling regions following the boundaries of the six Queensland stocks described by Keenan [1994] [Fisheries Queensland 2010]. The assessment for Queensland Barramundi stocks presented here follows the same boundaries as Keenan [1994] and the abovementioned fisheries monitoring program, but also considers ‘vagrant’ fish, that venture south of 26⁰ South (and which were not sampled by Keenan [1994]), as a seventh biological stock. The seven biological stocks within Queensland are: Southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Gulf of Carpentaria, Princess Charlotte Bay, North-East Coast, Mackay, Central East Coast and South-East Coast. 

It is acknowledged that the recent works of Jerry et al. [2013] and Loughnan et al. [2019] identified eight genetic stocks of Barramundi in Queensland, but there are practical limits on how many assessments can be conducted on this species. Additionally, tag-recapture information for Barramundi in Queensland indicates that the boundaries of the subpopulations identified by Jerry et al. [2013] and Loughnan et al. [2019] are somewhat porous, as individual Barramundi do move between subpopulations (Infofish Australia [2014, 2020]). This includes large female fish, that often move after flood events. The seven stock regions reported upon for Queensland capture most of the dynamics of the genetic subpopulations, which in Barramundi are thought to be highly responsive to regional climatic events [Staunton-Smith et al. 2004, Robins et al. 2005, Halliday et al. 2010, Halliday et al. 2012].

Extensive stocking of Barramundi fingerlings in catchments on the east coast of Queensland is unlikely to compromise the above stock structure as parents from the same genetic stock are used to produce fingerlings. The assessments of the individual management units encompassing Western Australia and the Northern Territory are based on the biological stocks that receive the highest harvest rates, and whose status is assumed to be representative of the highest level of exploitation that occurs on any biological stock within each unit. 

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the management unit level—Kimberley Gillnet and Barramundi Managed Fishery (Western Australia), Barramundi Fishery (Northern Territory); and the biological stock level—Southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Gulf of Carpentaria, Princess Charlotte Bay, North-East Coast, Mackay, Central East Coast and South-East Coast (Queensland).

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Stock Status

Kimberley Gillnet and Barramundi Managed Fishery

The harvest strategy for Barramundi in the Kimberley Gillnet and Barramundi Managed Fishery in the Kimberley region of Western Australia is based on a constant commercial catch policy, where the annual commercial catches of Barramundi are allowed to vary within a target catch range, which is based on a historical catch range during which the fishery was stable and levels of exploitation were considered to be sustainable. The target catch range was calculated as 33–44 tonnes (t) [Newman et al. 2020]. Barramundi is also an indicator species [see Newman at al. 2018] for the North Coast Nearshore and Estuarine Resource and as such the stock status of Barramundi subsequently determines the risk-level for the biological sustainability of the suite of species in the North Coast Nearshore and Estuarine Resource. 

The Barramundi catch in 2019 was 47 t; above the target catch range, but below the upper end of the limit range (23–54 t). The catch was achieved with a high catch per unit effort (CPUE;  ~139 kg per block day) across the fishery, and indicates this level of catch is based on increased recruitment and not increased effort in the fishery. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. 

In 2013, two licenses were removed from the Broome coast area of the fishery [Newman et al. 2020]. This area of the fishery is now only exposed to recreational and Indigenous fishing. This effort removal has reduced the potential level of fishing mortality. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired. 

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Kimberley Gillnet and Barramundi Managed Fishery (Western Australia) management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Barramundi biology [Davis 1982]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)

35 years, 1500 mm TL

Maturity (50 per cent) Northern Territory: Males 2–5 years, 730 mm TL Females 5–7 years, 910 mm TL. Queensland: Males 2–5 years, 640 mm TL, Females 5–7 years, 820 mm TL

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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Barramundi

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Fishing methods
Western Australia
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Western Australia
Bag limits
Limited entry
Passenger restrictions
Possession limit
Size limit
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Vessel restrictions
Laws of general application
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Licence (Recreational Fishing from Boat License)
Possession limit
Size limit
Spatial closures
Western Australia
Commercial 48.81t
Charter 5 t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 6 t (2017–18)

Western Australia – Recreational (catch) Boat-based recreational catch between 1 September 2015 and 31 August 2016 from Ryan et al. [2019]. Please note that catches of Barramundi are underestimates as shore-based and boat-based fishers that only operated in freshwater were out of scope of the survey.

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 – 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”.

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 licence and passenger numbers.

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 Barramundi - note confidential catch not shown.

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  1. Campbell, A, Robins, J and O’Neil, M 2017, Assessment of the barramundi (Lates calcarifer) fishery in the Southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. The State of Queensland.
  2. Crook DA, Buckle, DJ, Allsop, Q, Baldwin, W, Saunders, TM, Kyne, PM, Woodhead JD, Maas, R, Roberts, B and Douglas, MM 2016, Use of otolith chemistry and acoustic telemetry to elucidate migratory contingents in barramundi Lates calcarifer. Marine and Freshwater Research 68, 1554–1566.
  3. Davis, TLO 1982, Maturity and sexuality in Barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in the Northern Territory and south-eastern Gulf of Carpentaria, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 33: 529–545.
  4. Davis, TLO 1984, Estimation of fecundity in Barramundi, "Lates calcarifer", using an automatic counter. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 35(1): 111–118.
  5. Davis, TLO 1987, Biology of Lates calcarifer in Northern Australia, in JW Copland and DL Grey, Management of wild and cultured sea bass/barramundi (Lates calcarifer): Proceedings of an international workshop held at Darwin, NT Australia, 24–30 September 1986, ACIAR Proceedings No. 20, pp 22–29.
  6. de Lestang, P, Griffin, RK and Allsop QA 2004, Assessment of the post-release survival and stress physiology of barramundi (Lates calcarifer), Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2002/039, Northern Territory Government Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development, Darwin.
  7. Fisheries Queensland, 2010, Fisheries Long Term Monitoring Program Sampling Protocol – Barramundi (2008 onwards) Section 1. Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane, Australia.
  8. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2020, Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme, Lates calcarifer (Block, 1790)
  9. Garrett, RN and Russell, DJ 1982, Pre-management investigations into the barramundi Lates calcarifer (Bloch) in northeast Queensland water: A report to the Fishing Industry Research Committee Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Final report to Commonwealth FIRC, Canberra.
  10. Grubert, M, Saunders, T and Usher M unpublished, Barramundi Stock Status Summary - 2020: Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) Northern Territory stock.
  11. Halliday, IA, Ley, JA, Tobin, A, Garrett, R, Gribble, NA and Mayer, DG 2001, The effects of net fishing: Addressing biodiversity and bycatch issues in Queensland inshore waters, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 97/206, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.
  12. Halliday, IA, Robins, JB, Mayer, DG, Staunton-Smith, J and Sellin, MJ 2010, Freshwater flows affect the year-class strength of Barramundi Lates calcarifer in the Fitzroy River estuary, Central Queensland. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 116, 1–11.
  13. Halliday, IA, Saunders, T, Sellin, M, Allsop, Q, Robins, JB, McLennan, M and Kurnoth, P 2012, Flow impacts on estuarine finfish fisheries of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2007/002, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.
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  15. Infofish Australia 2014, The big picture: Tagging and recaptures 1985–2014.
  16. Infofish Australia 2020, Research and Reports Archive – Suntag Program (Online repository)
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  18. Keenan, CP 1994, Recent evolution of population structure in Australian Barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch): An example of isolation by distance in one dimension, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 45: 1123–1148.
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  20. Loughnan SR, Smith-Keune, C, Beheregaray, LB, Robinson, NA, and Jerry DR 2019, Population genetic structure of barramundi (Lates calcarifer) across the natural distribution range in Australia informs fishery management and aquaculture practices. Marine and Freshwater Research 70, 1533–1542.
  21. Moore, R 1979, Natural sex inversion in the giant perch (Lates calcarifer). Marine and Freshwater Research 30, 803–813.
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  23. Newman, SJ, Mitsopoulos, G, Skepper, C and Wiberg, L 2018, North Coast Nearshore and Estuarine Resource Status Report 2017. pp. 123–126. In: Gaughan, D.J. and Santoro, K. (eds.). 2020. Status Reports of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Western Australia 2018/19: The State of the Fisheries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, Perth, Australia. 291p.
  24. Northern Territory Government (NTG) 2018, Status of key Northern Territory fish stocks report 2014, Department of Primary Industry and Resources, Fishery Report No. 119, Darwin.
  25. QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, www.qfish.gov.au
  26. Queensland Department of Environment and Science (QDES) 2018, QPWS permit database, Department of Environment and Science, Cairns.
  27. Robins, JB, Halliday, IA, Staunton-Smith, J, Mayer DG and Selling, MJ 2005, Freshwater-flow requirements of estuarine fisheries in tropical Australia: a review of the state of knowledge and application of a suggested approach. Marine and Freshwater Research 56, 343–360.
  28. Russell, DJ and Garrett, RN 1985, Early life history of Barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in north-eastern Queensland Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 36: 191–201
  29. Russell, DJ and Hales, P 1993, A survey of the Princess Charlotte Bay recreational barramundi fishery, Northern Fisheries Centre, Department of Primary Industries, Cairns.
  30. Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai, EK, Smallwood, CB, Tate, A, Taylor, SM, Wise, BS 2019, Statewide survey of boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2017/18. Fisheries Research Report No. 297. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Government of Western Australia, Perth.
  31. Saunders, T, Whybird, O, Trinnie, F, and Newman, S 2018, Barramundi Lates calcarifer 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.
  32. Staunton-Smith, J, Robins, JB, Mayer, DG, Sellin, MJ and Halliday, IA 2004, Does the quantity and timing of fresh water flowing into a dry tropical estuary affect year-class strength of barramundi (Lates calcarifer)? Marine and Freshwater Research, 55(8): 787–797.
  33. Streipert, S, Filar, J, Robins, J and Whybird, O 2019, Stock assessment of the barramundi (Lates calcarifer) fishery in Queensland, Australia. May 2019, Technical Report, State of Queensland.
  34. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide recreational fishing survey 2013–14. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  35. Welch, D, Gribble, N and Garrett, R 2002, Assessment of the Barramundi fishery in Queensland–2002. Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

Downloadable reports

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