Saddletail Snapper (2020)

Lutjanus malabaricus

  • Thor Saunders (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)
  • Corey Wakefield (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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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. The East Coast QLD biological stock is classified as undefined, while the North Coast Biogregion, Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, Timor and Arafura Seas, and Gulf of Carpentaria biological stocks are all 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]. Recently, 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 biological stock level—North Coast Bioregion (Western Australia), Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and 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; 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 [Newman et al. 2020]. Saddletail Snapper is assessed on the basis of the status of several indicator species (including Red Emperor and Goldband Snapper in the Kimberley region) considered to provide reliable indices of overall fishing pressure on the entire inshore demersal suite of species occurring at depths of 30–250 m [Newman et al. 2018]. The major performance measures for these indicator species are estimates of spawning stock levels estimated using an integrated age-structured assessment. The target level of spawning biomass is 40 per cent of the unfished level, with a threshold reference level of 30 per cent and a limit reference level of 20 per cent of the estimate of initial spawning biomass [DPIRD 2017]. Indicator species assessments determined that the spawning biomass levels of each of the indicator species were either greater than the target level or between the target and the threshold level of the unfished level in the Pilbara Demersal Scalefish Fisheries in 2015. The spawning biomass levels of the indicator species were at the threshold level in the NDSMF in 2017 [Newman et al. 2020]. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.

The catch of Saddletail Snapper in the Pilbara Demersal Scalefish Fisheries has been low and stable for the past 10 years (2010–19), ranging from 68–113 t, with a mean annual catch of 86 t. The catch of Saddletail Snapper in the NDSMF has been variable for the past 10 years (2010–19), ranging from 87–251 t, with a mean annual catch of 134 t. 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 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
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 339.04t
Charter 4 t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Insufficient data

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 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 – Recreational (catch) Saddletail Snapper and Crimson Snapper catch were combined during the Northern Territory 2010 recreational fishing survey [West et al. 2012].

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 Saddletail Snapper - note confidential catch not shown
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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Newman, SJ, Wakefield, C, Skepper, C, Boddington, D, 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.
  15. 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, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project Number 2009/037.
  16. QDAF, Queensland statewide recreational fishing survey 2019-20, In prep.
  17. QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, www.qfish.gov.au
  18. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2020, Reef line fishery harvest strategy: 2020–2025, Brisbane, Queensland.
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  23. Saunders, T and Roelofs, A 2020, Gulf of Carpentaria Saddletail Snapper Stock Status Summary - 2020. Unpublished Fishery Report.
  24. 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.
  25. Stock Status Summary - 2020 Saddletail Snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus) Timor-Arafura seas Stock Reduction Analysis. Unpublished Fishery Report.
  26. Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019–20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.
  27. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013-14, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.

Downloadable reports

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