Saddletail Snapper (2023)

Lutjanus malabaricus

  • Grant Johnson (Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Northern Territory)
  • Amos Mapleston (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Corey Wakefield (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Fabian Trinnie (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)

Date Published: June 2023

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Saddletail Snapper are widely distributed throughout the Indo-West Pacific region. Genetic studies identified three broad biological stocks across northern Australia [Elliot 1996, Salini et al. 2006], but more recent research using otolith microchemistry and parasites has identified discrete biological stocks in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, Timor and Arafura Seas, and the Gulf of Carpentaria. This assessment is therefore presented at the biological stock level. All stocks are classified as sustainable. 

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Western Australia North Coast Bioregion Sustainable Catch, indicator species status
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Stock Structure

Saddletail Snapper is a widespread Indo-Pacific species found from Shark Bay in Western Australia, across northern Australia to the east coast of Queensland [Newman 2002]. Genetic studies indicate that three biological stocks occur across the species' Australian range: the North Coast Bioregion biological stock, the Northern Australian biological stock (including the Timor Sea, Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria) and the East coast of Queensland biological stock [Elliot 1996; Salini et al. 2006]. Saunders et al. [2018] used otolith microchemistry and parasitology to identify separate biological Saddletail Snapper stocks in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, Timor and Arafura seas and Gulf of Carpentaria.

Here, assessments of stock status are presented at the 5 identified biological stock level—North Coast Bioregion (Western Australia), Joseph Bonaparte Gulf (Northern Territory), Timor-Arafura seas (Northern Territory), Gulf of Carpentaria (Northern Territory and Queensland) and East coast (Queensland).

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Stock Status

North Coast Bioregion

Saddletail Snapper is caught primarily on the north-west coast of Western Australia as a component of the multispecies Pilbara Demersal Scalefish Fisheries (which includes the Pilbara Fish Trawl (Interim) Managed Fishery, the Pilbara Trap Managed Fishery and the Pilbara Line Fishery) in the Pilbara management region of the North Coast Bioregion (NCB); and as a component of the multispecies Northern Demersal Scalefish Managed Fishery (NDSMF) in the Kimberley management region of the North Coast Bioregion of Western Australia. Saddletail Snapper are assessed on the basis of the status of several indicator species (including, for example, Red Emperor, Rankin Cod, and Bluespotted Emperor in the Pilbara region, and Red Emperor and Goldband Snapper in the Kimberley region) across the North Coast Demersal Resource (NCDR) that represent the entire inshore demersal suite of species occurring at depths of 30–250 m [Newman et al. 2018]. The indicator species in the Pilbara and Kimberley have been classified as sustainable [Wakefield et al. 2023]. The level of risk associated with the sustainability of Saddletail Snapper in the NCDR is assessed as low. This assessment of Saddletail Snapper is also supported by the results of a data-limited Catch-MSY assessment, where recent catches are compared to model predictions for maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

The total catch of Saddletail Snapper in the NCB over the last 10 years (2013–22) have ranged from 168–372 t, with a mean annual catch of 268 t. This is an increase on the average catches across the previous 10 years of 185 t. Recreational and charter catch are relatively low compared to the commercial catch, in the past 10 years where reliable catches estimates are available, their contribution of the total catch has averaged 2%. Analyses using a Catch-MSY model applied to data on annual catches for this species (1973–2022), demonstrated that the annual catches from 1985–2016 were below the median model estimate for maximum sustainable yield (MSY), but have been above MSY from 2017 to 2022, after having been around the 95% CI of MSY in 2019. The predicted values for biomass in recent years exhibit a declining trend but have remained above BMSY, and fishing mortality has remained below FMSY. However, it is important to recognise that Catch-MSY is a data-limited technique with strong assumptions, dependent on user inputs. For this assessment, these included specified ranges for initial depletion (0.8–0.975), based on low foreign fleets catch at the start of the time series, final depletion (0.15–0.7), based on recent catches relative to maximum recorded annual catch and the non-targeted nature of commercial fishing for this species, and low resilience (r=0.1–0.6, consistent with species longevity, of approximately 31 years in WA). Given the recent catches across multiple fisheries being within the predicted MSY range, and status of the indicator species for the NCDR, it is considered unlikely that the biomass of Saddletail Snapper in the NCB is depleted. The evidence also 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 North Coast Bioregion (Western Australia) biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Saddletail Snapper biology [Fry and Milton 2009; Fry et al. 2009; McPherson et al. 1992; McPherson and Squire 1992; Carpenter and Niem 2001; Newman 2002; Newman et al. 2000]}

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Saddletail Snapper Northern and Western Australia: 33 years, 680 mm SL East coast Queensland, 20 years; 1000 mm TL Northern and Western Australia: 9 years, Males 280 mm SL, Females 370 mm SL East coast Queensland: Females 576 mm FL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Saddletail Snapper – confidential catch is not shown
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Fishing methods
Western Australia
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Otter Trawl
Fish Trap
Hook and Line
Rod and reel
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Western Australia
Bag limits
Limited entry
Passenger restrictions
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Spatial zoning
Total allowable effort
Vessel restrictions
Laws of general application
Licence (Recreational Fishing from Boat License)
Possession limit
Spatial closures
Western Australia
Commercial 326.63t
Charter 2.70 t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 3.4 t (2020–21)

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

Western Australia – Recreational (Catch). Boat-based recreational catch is from 1 September 2020–31 August 2021. 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 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 – Recreational (Catch). Saddletail Snapper, Crimson Snapper and Indonesian Snapper catch were combined during the Northern Territory 2018 to 2019 recreational fishing survey. Saddletail Snapper was assumed to be a proportion of the total reported catch of these species [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 (NT), 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 – Commercial (Catch). Queensland commercial and charter data have been sourced from the commercial fisheries logbook program. Further information are available through the Queensland Fisheries Summary Report: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/monitoring-research/data/queensland-fisheries-summary-report 

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

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

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

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Saddletail Snapper - note confidential catch not shown
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  1. Campbell, AB, Fox, AR, Hillcoat, KB, and Sumpter, L 2021, Stock assessment of Queensland east coast saddletail snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus), Australia, Tech. Rep. Brisbane, Australia: Department of Agricultures and Fisheries.
  2. Carpenter, KE and Niem, VH 2001, (Eds.) FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. The living marine resources of the Western Central Pacific. Vol 5. Bony fishes part 3 (Menidae to Pomacentridae). Rome, FAO. 2001. pp 27913380.
  3. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2023, Dashboard: Boat Ramp Survey Dashboard. Available at https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/monitoring-research/monitoring-reporting/boat-ramp-survey-program/dashboardAccessed: 11 August 2023).
  4. Elliot, NG 1996, Allozyme and mitochondrial DNA analysis of the tropical saddle-tail sea perch, Lutjanus malabaricus (Schneider), from Australian Waters. Marine and Freshwater Research, 47: 869–876.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Knuckey, I, Koopman, M, and Hudson, R 2022, Survey of tropical snapper in Queensland Gulf of Carpentaria Developmental Fin Fish Trawl Fishery, Fishwell Consulting.
  8. Knuckey, IA and Koopman, M 2022, Survey of tropical snapper in Northern Territory fisheries - 2021, Fishwell Consulting.
  9. Leigh, GM and O'Neill, MF 2016, Gulf of Carpentaria Finfish Trawl Fishery: Maximum Sustainable Yield, Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Newman, SJ 2002, Growth rate, age determination, natural mortality and production potential of the scarlet sea perch, Lutjanus malabaricus Schneider 1801, off the Pilbara coast of north-western Australia, Fisheries Research, 58: 215–225.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. O'Neill, MF, Leigh, GM, Martin, JM, Newman, SJ, Chambers, M, Dichmont, CM and Buckworth, RC 2011, Sustaining productivity of tropical red snappers using new monitoring and reference points, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project Number 2009/037.
  16. Pazhayamadom, DG 2023, Stock assessment of Saddletail Snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus) in the Northern Territory 2022 - unpublished fishery report, Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.
  17. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2020, Reef line fishery harvest strategy: 2020–2025, Brisbane, Queensland.
  18. Ramm, DC 1994, Assessment of the status, composition and market potential of the demersal trawl fish resources in northern Australian waters, Final report the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation on project number 90/15.
  19. 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.
  20. Sainsbury, KJ, Campbell, R, Brewer, DT, Harris, AN, McLoughlin, K, Ramm, DC, Staples, DJ, Xiao, Y and Knuckey, I 1991, Northern Fisheries Research Committee Trawl Fisheries Assessment Working Group.
  21. 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.
  22. Saunders, T and Roelofs, A 2020, Gulf of Carpentaria Saddletail Snapper Stock Status Summary - 2020. Unpublished Fishery Report.
  23. 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.
  24. Stock Status Summary - 2020 Saddletail Snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus) Timor-Arafura seas Stock Reduction Analysis. Unpublished Fishery Report.
  25. Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019–20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.
  26. 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.
  27. West, LD, Stark, KE, Dysart, K & Lyle, JM 2022, Survey of recreational fishing in the Northern Territory: 2018 to 2019, Northern Territory Fisheries, Darwin.

Downloadable reports

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