Golden Snapper (2020)
Date Published: June 2021
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There are five assessment units of Golden Snapper across Australia’s north. The WA, Regional NT, Gulf of Carpentaria and Eastern Australia assessment units are sustainable, whereas the Darwin Region management unit of the NT is classified as depleted.
Stock Status Overview
Catch, biomass, fishing mortality
|Queensland||Gulf of Carpentaria||Sustainable||
Catch, biomass, fishing mortality
Golden Snapper is a moderately long-lived (i.e. 30 years), late-maturing species that can reach a length of one metre [Cappo et al. 2013]. They are broadly distributed throughout the tropical and sub-tropical Indo-West Pacific with juveniles spending several years in estuarine and inshore reef habitats before migrating to nearshore reef environments (to a depth of at least 80 m) as they near sexual maturity [Allen 1985, Kiso and Mahyam, 2003, Tanaka et al. 2011].
The distribution of this species within Australian waters extends from the Kimberley region in Western Australia, around the north of the continent to the southern Great Barrier Reef (around Rockhampton) [Travers et al. 2009]. A study of the stock structure of Golden Snapper across this range suggests that many functionally separate adult populations are present at a scale of tens of kilometres, although boundaries are unknown [Saunders et al. 2016].
Golden Snapper experience moderate to high harvest rates in some Australian fisheries (particularly those targeting adults of this late-maturing species), which can cause localised depletion. However, it is extremely difficult to collect relevant biological and catch-and-effort information to assess each adult population unit.
Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level―Western Australia; and the management unit level―Darwin Region, and Regional Northern Territory (Northern Territory); Gulf of Carpentaria (Northern Territory and Queensland), East Coast (Queensland).
Golden Snapper is mainly harvested by the recreational sector on the Queensland east coast, and no stock assessment has been undertaken to estimate current biomass in relation to unfished biomass in this management unit. Estimated recreational landed catch remained stable between 2000 (about 31 tonnes (t)) and 2010 (about 33 t), but then declined to around 13 t in 2013–14 [Teixeira et al. 2021]. The most recent recreational angler survey (2019–20) estimates a substantial jump in harvest to 61 t. According to this survey, close to two-thirds of recreationally caught fish were released [Webley et al. 2020]. However, given that this species suffers substantial post-release mortality from barotrauma [Welch et al. 2014], it is likely that total fishing mortality by this sector is higher than indicated by landed catch. The Indigenous harvest from this management unit is unknown. The species is taken as by-product in the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (Queensland), predominantly by set mesh net. Annual commercial catches increased from less than one t per year from 2000–08 to a peak of 10 t in 2011. Catches from 2012 declined from this peak, and in 2019 the catch was around 13 t.
A preliminary assessment using catch data from all commercial fisheries applied to a modified catch-MSY model (developed by Martell and Froese  and modified by Haddon et al. ), estimated that the 2019 biomass of Golden Snapper on the East Coast was 51 per cent of unfished levels [Saunders and Roelofs 2020a] suggesting that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. The model estimated the fishing mortality in 2019 was equal to the limit reference point of 0.2. Harvest in recent years has been above the estimated MSY. The current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired, however, should high fishing pressure continue, there is an increased risk of overfishing occurring.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, the East Coast (Queensland) management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.
Gulf of Carpentaria
In the Gulf of Carpentaria management unit, Golden 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 harvest. Harvest from the adjacent Northern Territory jurisdiction has been low in recent years. Golden Snapper were also fished by foreign fleets between the 1950s and 1980s [O’Neill et al. 2011], and these catches (annual peak of 60 t) were higher than contemporary levels.
In the Queensland portion of this management unit commercial catches remained stable at 20–35 t annually from 2001–2011. Fish trawl effort from the GOCDFFTF declined markedly from 2012–14 as a result of trawl effort being transferred onto other management units. In 2019, there was no catch in the trawl sector and the catch by other fisheries was below 4 t. However, in the Northern Territory portion of this management unit an increase in the targeting of Saddletail Snapper by the DF in 2019 led to an increase of the catch (19 t) of Golden Snapper.
A preliminary assessment using catch data from all commercial fisheries applied to a modified catch-MSY model (developed by Martell and Froese  and modified by Haddon ), estimated that the 2019 biomass of Golden Snapper was 47 per cent of unfished levels [Saunders and Roelofs 2020b] suggesting that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Similarly, the fishing mortality in 2019 was 0.12 which approximated the target level and was well below the limit reference point indicating 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 Gulf of Carpentaria management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.
Golden Snapper biology [Hay et al. 2005, Cappo et al. 2013, Welch et al. 2014]
|Species||Longevity / Maximum Size||Maturity (50 per cent)|
|Golden Snapper||30 years, 990 mm FL, 15 kg||Varies by location and sex: Males 4–9 years and ~400–600 mm FL, Females 6–10 years and 400–650 mm FL|
Distribution of reported commercial catch of Golden Snapper
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Total allowable catch|
|Recreational||60.9 t (2019-20 survey)|
Western Australia – Active Vessels Data is unreportable as there were fewer than three vessels operating in the PFTIMF, PTMF and WL.
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 – 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 – 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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- Cappo, M, Marriott, RJ and Newman, SJ 2013, James’s rule and causes and consequences of a latitudinal cline in the demography of John’s Snapper (Lutjanus johnii) in coastal waters of Australia, Fishery Bulletin, 111(4): 309–324.
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- Hay, T, Knuckey, I, Calogeras, C and Errity, C 2005, Population and biology of the Golden Snapper, Fishery report 21, Northern Territory Government, Darwin.
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- 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 2017/18: The State of the Fisheries. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, Perth, Australia. 291p.
- Northern Territory Government (NTG) 2017, Status of key Northern Territory Fish Stocks Report 2015, Northern Territory Government Department of Resources, fishery report 118.
- 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 2009/037, Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane.
- 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.
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- Saunders, T (2020), Regional NT Golden Snapper Stock Status Summary - 2020. Unpublished Fishery Report.
- Saunders, T and Roelofs, A (2020a), East Coast Queensland Golden Snapper Stock Status Summary - 2020. Unpublished Fishery Report
- Saunders, T and Roelofs, A (2020b),Gulf of Carpentaria Golden Snapper Stock Status Summary - 2020. Unpublished Fishery Report.
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- Teixeira, D, Janes, R and Webley, J 2021, 2019/20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results, Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.
- Travers, MJ, Potter, IC, Clarke, KR, Newman, SJ and Hutchins, JB 2009, The inshore fish faunas over soft substrates and reefs on the tropical west coast of Australia differ and change with latitude and bioregion. Journal of Biogeography, 37: 148–169.
- 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.
- Welch, DJ, Robins, J, Saunders, T, Courtney, T, Harry, A, Lawson, E, Moore, BR, Tobin, A, Turnbull, C, Vance, D and Williams, AJ 2014, Implications of climate change impacts on fisheries resources of northern Australia, part 2: Species profiles, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2010/565, James Cook University, Townsville.