Date Published: June 2021
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Snapper is widely distributed in Australia and managed as twleve stocks. Six are sustainable, one is recovering, four are depleted and one is undefined.
Stock Status Overview
Estimated biomass, standardised catch rates, length and age composition, fishing mortality rate, catch, effort, CPUE
Snapper has a wide distribution in Australia, from waters off the north coast of Western Australia, around the south of the continent, and up to northern Queensland around Hinchinbrook Island [Kailola et al. 1993]. Within this broad distribution, the biological stock structure is complex.
Recent genetic studies of Snapper using microsatellite markers have led to a refined understanding of stock structure for the east Australian coast that have indicated greater complexity than previously thought. Snapper from Queensland to central New South Wales show little genetic differentiation and are considered to represent a single genetic stock [Morgan et al. 2019], consistent with earlier studies using allozymes [Sumpton et al. 2008]. This stock is referred to as the East Coast Stock, with the Queensland and New South Wales components managed and assessed at the jurisdictional level. Snapper within the East Coast biological stock are thought to be largely resident; however some individuals do move long distances [Sumpton et al. 2003, Harasti et al. 2015, Stewart et al. 2019]. The majority of commercial landings in New South Wales are thought to consist of fish that recruit from local estuaries [Gillanders 2002]. In addition to the limited mixing within the stock, key biological traits of Snapper (such as the size and age at maturity) vary with latitude [Stewart et al. 2010]. It is therefore appropriate to manage and report on stock status of the East Coast biological stock of Snapper at the jurisdictional level – as Queensland and New South Wales jurisdictional stocks.
Snapper from eastern Victoria are now recognised as genetically differentiated from those that inhabit the southern coast of New South Wales, i.e. north of Eden [Morgan et al. 2019]. As such, Snapper from Wilsons Promontory to southern New South Wales are considered a separate biological stock that is now referred to as the Eastern Victorian stock. Although there is low genetic variation between the eastern and western sides of Wilsons Promontory [Meggs and Austin 2003, Morgan et al. unpublished], separation between these populations has been supported by tagging and otolith chemistry studies [Coutin et al. 2003, Hamer et al. 2011]. Snapper to the west of Wilsons Promontory, including the important fisheries of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, constitute the Western Victorian biological stock. This stock extends westward from Wilsons Promontory to near the mouth of the Murray River in south eastern South Australia [Sanders 1974, Donnellan and McGlennon 1996, Hamer et al. 2011, Fowler et al. 2017].
The South Australian fishery was originally divided into six management units, due to uncertainty about movement among different regional populations [Fowler et al. 2013]. However, a recent study evaluated the stock structure and adult movement among regional populations within South Australia, and western Victoria [Fowler 2016, Fowler et al. 2017], based on inter-regional comparisons of otolith chemistry and increment widths, as well as population characteristics. The study differentiated three stocks. The Western Victorian stock, which extends westward into south-eastern South Australia, depends on recruitment into, and subsequent emigration from, Port Phillip Bay in Victoria. As such, this is a cross-jurisdictional stock, although the components from the two states are still managed independently. The two other stocks are wholly located within South Australia. The Spencer Gulf/West Coast stock depends on recruitment into Northern Spencer Gulf from where some fish eventually emigrate to replenish the populations of Southern Spencer Gulf and the west coast of Eyre Peninsula. The third stock is the Gulf St. Vincent stock, which relies on recruitment into Northern Gulf St. Vincent, and subsequent emigration to Southern Gulf St. Vincent and Investigator Strait [Fowler 2016, Fowler et al. 2017].
In Western Australia, Snapper is currently divided into six management units. At the smaller geographic scale inside Shark Bay within the Gascoyne bioregion, genetically-related but biologically separate stocks have been identified in the Eastern Gulf, Denham Sound and Freycinet Estuary based on otolith microchemistry, tagging and egg/larval dispersal modelling [Johnson et al. 1986, Edmonds et al. 1999, Bastow et al. 2002, Moran et al. 2003, Nahas et al. 2003, Norriss et al. 2012, Gardner et al. 2017]. At the larger scale, Snapper in oceanic waters off the Western Australian coast that comprise the three remaining management units, i.e. Shark Bay Oceanic, West Coast and South Coast, show low levels of genetic differentiation (microsatellites) over hundreds of kilometres consistent with a semi-continuous genetic stock where gene flow is primarily limited by geographic distance [Gardner and Chaplin 2011, Gardner et al. 2017]. Otolith microchemistry has indicated residency of adult Snapper in the Gascoyne, West and South Coast bioregions, but with recruitment likely coming from multiple nursery areas [Wakefield et al. 2011, Fairclough et al. 2013]. Tagging studies support these findings with the majority of adults tagged at the key spawning locations in the Gascoyne and West Coast bioregions recaptured within 100 km, as well as philopatry of adults that aggregate to spawn in embayments on the west coast [Moran et al. 2003, Wakefield et al. 2011, Crisafulli et al. 2019]. A current FRDC project is using genomics, otolith microchemistry and ocean circulation modelling to better understand Snapper stock connectivity in oceanic waters off the Gascoyne and West Coast.
Here, assessment of stock status for Snapper is presented at the biological stock level—Shark Bay inshore Eastern Gulf, Shark Bay inshore Denham Sound, Shark Bay inshore Freycinet Estuary (Western Australia); Eastern Victoria (Victoria), Western Victoria (Victoria and South Australia), Gulf St Vincent, Spencer Gulf/West Coast (South Australia); the management unit level—South Coast, Shark Bay Oceanic and West Coast (Western Australia); and the jurisdictional level–Queensland and New South Wales.
The most recent integrated stock assessment for East Coast Snapper [Wortmann et al. 2018] (data from 1880 to 2016) from the entire biological stock (Queensland and New South Wales) produced a range of relative biomass estimates that varied between 10 and 45 per cent of unfished levels. The annual age-structured model partitioned the fishery into four sectors: New South Wales trap; New South Wales commercial line and charter; Queensland commercial line and charter, and, New South Wales and Queensland recreational. The majority of model outputs (93 per cent) for all line-fishing sectors estimated biomass to be at the lower end of this range at below 20 per cent of unfished levels. In contrast, model scenarios using standardised New South Wales trap catch rates ranged between 20 per cent and 45 per cent of unfished levels, with most estimates being above 30 per cents.
Queensland harvests (recreational, charter and commercial sectors combined) approximately one third of the east coast Snapper stock with nearly all of the Queensland harvest (94 per cent) taken by line fishing. Based on the relevant model scenarios for Queensland using line catch rates, the stock assessment estimated the spawning biomass of the stock in 2016 at between 10 per cent and 23 per cent of the virgin level. The majority of these outputs (51 of 55 scenarios) were below the limit threshold of 20 per cent of unfished biomass. Standardised commercial catch rates have declined further since 2016 indicating a continued low abundance of snapper [Wortmann 2020]. Fishery-dependent biological monitoring showed truncated commercial and recreational age frequencies with declining proportions of larger fish over the duration of the monitoring program (2007–2019). Fishery-independent monitoring of pre-recruit snapper in the Moreton Bay portion of the stock showed the average number of pre-recruits has been variable since 2007 when the stock was considered overfished [Bessell-Browne et al. 2020]. There is no evidence to suggest the biomass of the Queensland component of the biological stock is recovering. The stock is therefore considered to be recruitment impaired.
Commercial harvest of Snapper in Queensland in 2019 was 25 t; a level approximately 19 t (44 per cent) lower than 2016 and 63 per cent lower than the previous 10 year average [QFISH 2020, Fowler et al. 2018]. The number of active line commercial fishing licences (- 32 per cent) and line fishing effort days (- 47 per cent) have continued to decrease over the last decade, indicating a reduction in commercial fishing pressure. The estimated recreational harvest increased by 49 per cent by number and 72 per cent by weight from 2013–14 (around 56 000 fish; est. 80 t) to 2019–2020 (around 83 000 fish; est. 138 t), however catch rates declined over the same period [Taylor et al. 2012, Webley et al. 2015, QDAF In prep.].
Reconstructed total harvest history across the whole eastern biological stock from the stock assessment showed high fishing pressure in the 1950s to 1990s (above levels to sustain BMSY). Modelling suggested that maintaining total harvest at 2017 levels will not rebuild stocks in Queensland, given the likely depleted state of the stock and low estimated spawning ratios. From 1 September 2019, Snapper in Queensland became a line-caught only species, a total allowable commercial catch limit (42 tonnes) established, and a one month seasonal closure in July-August introduced. Recreational fishing is subject to a possession limit of four fish per person (only one over 700 mm). Fishing pressure is further regulated by a minimum legal size which allows a proportion of mature fish to spawn before becoming available to the fishery. These measures should help reduce fishing mortality of Snapper in Queensland, and support stock recovery from its recruitment impaired state, however it is too early for these to have an effect on the depleted status classification.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, Snapper in Queensland is classified as a depleted stock.
Snapper biology [Jackson et al. 2010, Stewart et al. 2010, Wakefield et al. 2015, Fowler et al. 2016, Wakefield et al. 2016]
|Species||Longevity / Maximum Size||Maturity (50 per cent)|
|Snapper||30–40 years, 1300 mm TL||2–7 years, 220–560 mm TL|
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Recreational||138 t (2019–20)|
Western Australia - Recreational (Catch) Ryan et al. 2017.
Western Australia – Recreational (Management Methods) In Western Australia, total recreational catch limits (that is, maximum catch limits) have been applied to stocks of Snapper in inner Shark Bay and the west coast, to aid recovery of stocks.
Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing
New South Wales – Recreational (Catch) Murphy et al. .
New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing.
Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.
South Australia – Recreational (Catch) Giri and Hall 2015.
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