Crimson Snapper (2020)

Lutjanus erythropterus

  • Thor Saunders (Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade)
  • Fabian Trinnie (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Stephen Newman (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)

Date Published: June 2021

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The Crimson Snapper is a demersal species for which several biological stocks have been identified across northern Australia, either through targeted genetic research or by assumed similarity to the stock structure of the related Saddletail Snapper. The North Coast Bioregion, Gulf of Carpentaria, and combined Timor and Arafura Seas stocks are classified as sustainable, while the East Coast QLD and Joseph Bonaparte Gulf stocks are undefined. 

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Northern Territory Gulf of Carpentaria Sustainable

Catch, biomass

Northern Territory Joseph Bonaparte Gulf Undefined

Catch, biomass

Northern Territory Timor, Arafura seas Sustainable

Biomass, fishing mortality

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Stock Structure

Crimson Snapper (Lutjanus erythropterus) is a widespread Indo-Pacific species found throughout tropical Australian waters. Research on the biological stock structure of this species in Australian waters has only occurred in northern Australia; including the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria [Salini et al. 2006]. A single genetic stock was found across this region. In addition to this Northern Australia biological stock, it is considered that the species has a similar biological stock structure to Saddletail Snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus), with a Western Australia (North Coast Bioregion) biological stock and a biological stock off the east coast of Queensland [Salini et al. 2006]. Recently, Saunders et al. [2018] used otolith microchemistry and parasitology to identify separate biological stocks of Saddletail Snapper in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, Timor and Arafura seas and Gulf of Carpentaria. It is assumed that Crimson Snapper have the same biological stock structure.

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Stock Status

Gulf of Carpentaria

In this stock, Crimson Snapper is mainly harvested by trawl vessels in the commercial Gulf of Carpentaria Developmental Fin Fish Trawl Fishery) (GOCDFFTF—Queensland) and Demersal Fishery (DF—Northern Territory). There is no reliable estimate of recreational or Indigenous harvest although it is likely to be relatively low given the offshore distribution of this species. Crimson Snapper were also exposed to fishing from foreign fleets during the 1950s to the 1980s [O’Neill et al. 2011], and these catches (peak of 513 t) were higher than contemporary levels. In the Queensland portion of this stock commercial catches were very low (average < 6 t) until they increased substantially during 2002–2013 (average 197 t). Fish trawl effort from the GOCDFFTF declined markedly after 2012 as a result of trawl effort being transferred to other stocks and there has been no catch of Crimson Snapper by this fishery since 2016. However, in the Northern Territory portion of this stock an increase in the targeting of Saddletail Snapper by the DF in 2019 led to a substantial increase (to 320 t) in Crimson Snapper catch.

A preliminary assessment using catch data from all commercial fisheries applied to a modified catch-MSY model (developed by Martell and Froese [2013] and modified by Haddon [2018]), estimated that the 2019 biomass of Crimson Snapper was 41 per cent of unfished levels [Saunders and Roelofs 2020] suggesting that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. The model outputs indicate that the current F is above the limit point, however, 2019 was the first year since 2011 that this has happened so it is unlikely that the stock is depleting from this single breach of the limit. However, subsequent years will require close monitoring to ensure that any high catches are not causing the stock to deplete.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Gulf of Carpentaria management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.

Joseph Bonaparte Gulf

Crimson Snapper harvest was first reported in this stock in 1988 and the average catch from trap and line vessels in the Demersal Fishery (DF) to 2011 was very small (average < 1 t) compared to the adjacent Timor-Arafura seas stock. From 2012 a trawler entered the fishery and catches increased to a peak of 99 t in 2018 before declining to 64 t in 2019. A trawl survey of this stock [Ramm 1994] only caught small numbers of Crimson Snapper. Consequently, it is unknown what impact these substantial increases have had on the biomass of this stock. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to classify the status of this stock.

Based on the evidence above, the Joseph Bonaparte biological stock is classified as an undefined stock.

Timor, Arafura seas

Crimson Snapper was one of several tropical snapper species that were heavily exploited in this stock by foreign fishing operations from the early 1970s to 1990 [O’Neill et al. 2011]. Catches by this fleet peaked in the late 1980s at 783 t. Domestic harvest was negligible until 1995 when trawl operations began. Since then catches from this stock have increased steadily to a maximum of 450 t in 2015 before declining to 286 t in 2019 as operators targeted effort in other stocks. CPUE declined substantially during 2000-2010, but has significantly increased since then [Saunders 2020]. 

This stock was assessed using data up to 2019 using a stochastic stock reduction analysis (SRA) model [Saunders 2020]. Biomass was estimated to be 65 per cent of unfished levels, well above the limit reference point. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be recruitment impaired.

The SRA outputs also indicated that the current fishing mortality was well below the level that could cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

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 Timor-Arafura seas biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Crimson Snapper biology [DAF unpublished data, Fry and Milton 2009, Fry et al. 2009, McPherson et al. 1992, McPherson and Squire 1992, Newman et al. 2000]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Crimson Snapper Northern Australia: 42 years, 470 mm SL East Coast Queensland: 32 years, 790 mm FL Northern Australia: Males 270 mm SL, Females 350 mm SL East Coast Queensland: Females 485 mm (+/- 1.7) FL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Crimson Snapper

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Fishing methods
Northern Territory
Fish Trap
Bottom Trawls
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Northern Territory
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Possession limit
Spatial closures
Gear restrictions
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Total allowable catch
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Spatial closures
Northern Territory
Commercial 677.45t
Charter 0.7 t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 18.2 t (in 2015)

Western AustraliaActive Vessels Data is confidential as there were fewer than three vessels in the Pilbara Fish Trawl Interim Managed Fishery (Western Australia) and Pilbara Trap Managed Fishery (Western Australia).

Western Australia – Recreational (Catch) Boat-based recreational catch is 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 License 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 and Queensland – Recreational (catch) Saddletail Snapper and Crimson Snapper catch were combined during the Northern Territory 2010 recreational fishing survey [Matthews et al. 2019] and the Queensland 2013–14 recreational fishing survey [Webley et al. 2015].

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 Crimson Snapper - note confidential catch not shown

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  1. 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.
  2. Fry, G and Milton, DA 2009, Age, growth and mortality estimates for populations of red snappers Lutjanus erythropterus and L. malabaricus from northern Australia and eastern Indonesia, Fisheries Science, 75: 1219–1229.
  3. Fry, G, Milton, DA, Van Der Velde, T, Stobutzki, I, Andamari, R, Badrudin and Sumiono, B 2009, Reproductive dynamics and nursery habitat preferences of two commercially important Indo-Pacific red snappers Lutjanus erythropterus and L. malabaricus, Fisheries Science, 75: 145–158.
  4. Haddon M, Punt A and Burch P 2018, simpleSA: A package containing functions to facilitate relatively simple stock assessments. R package version 0.1.18.
  5. Martell, S, and Froese, R. 2013, A simple method for estimating MSY from catch and resilience. Fish and Fisheries 14:504–514.
  6. Matthews, S. R., Penny, S. S and Steffe A. (2019). A Survey of Recreational Fishing in the Greater Darwin Area 2015. Northern Territory Government, Australia. Fishery Report No 121.
  7. McPherson, GR and Squire, L 1992, Age and growth of three dominant Lutjanus species of the Great Barrier Reef Inter-Reef Fishery, Asian Fisheries Science, 5, 25–36.
  8. McPherson, GR, Squire, L and O'Brien, J 1992, Reproduction of three dominant Lutjanus species of the Great Barrier Reef Inter-Reef Fishery, Asian Fisheries Science, 5, 15–24.
  9. 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.
  10. Newman, SJ, Cappo, M, Williams, DM 2000, Age, growth, mortality rates and corresponding yield estimates using otoliths of the tropical red snappers, Lutjanus erythropterus, L. malabaricus and L. sebae, from the central Great Barrier Reef. Fisheries Research 48:1–14.
  11. Newman, SJ, Wakefield, C, Skepper, C, Boddington, and Blay, N 2020, North Coast Demersal Resource Status Report 2019. pp. 159–168. 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.
  12. O'Neill, MF, Leigh, GM, Martin, JM, Newman, SJ, Chambers, M, Dichmont, CM, Buckworth, RC 2011, Sustaining productivity of tropical red snappers using new monitoring and reference points. FRDC final report 2009-037.
  13. QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, www.qfish.gov.au
  14. Ramm, DC, 1994, Australia's Northern Trawl Fishery. Fishery Report No. 32 to the Fisheries Division, Department Of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Northern Territory Government.
  15. 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. 
  16. Salini, J, Ovenden, J, Street, R, Pendrey, R, Haryantis and Ngurah 2006, Genetic population structure of red snappers (Lutjanus malabaricus Bloch and Schneider, 1801 and Lutjanus erythropterus Bloch, 1790) in central and eastern Indonesia and northern Australia, Journal of Fish Biology, 68 (suppl. B): 217–234.
  17. Saunders, T 2020, Stock Status Summary - 2020 Crimson Snapper (Lutjanus erythropterus) Timor-Arafura seas Stock Reduction Analysis. Unpublished Fishery Status Report.
  18. Saunders, T and Roelofs, A 2020, Gulf of Carpentaria Crimson Snapper Stock Status Summary - 2020. Unpublished Fishery Report.
  19. Saunders, T, Barton, D, Crook, D, Hearnden, M and Newman, S 2018, Stock/Management unit division in the Northern Territory Offshore Snapper Fishery. Unpublished Fishery Report.
  20. Teixeira, D, Janes, R and Webley, J 2021, 2019/20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results, Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.

Downloadable reports

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