Snapper (2020)

Chrysophrys auratus

  • Anthony Fowler (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • John Stewart (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Anna Garland (Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Gary Jackson (Department of Primary Industries & Regional Development, Western Australia)

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.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
New South Wales New South Wales Sustainable

Estimated biomass, standardized catch rates, catch, effort, size and age composition

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Stock Structure

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.

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Stock Status

New South Wales

The most recent integrated stock assessment for East Coast Snapper [Wortmann et al. 2018] that included 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 per cent and 45 per cent of unfished levels. However, the majority of harvest from the East Coast stock occurs in New South Wales waters, with more than 80 per cent of the commercial harvest being taken in New South Wales since the 1980s [Wortmann et al. 2018], mostly in the trap fishery. The New South Wales recreational harvest is also larger than the recreational harvest in Queensland  [West et al. 2015, Murphy et al. 2020].

This high relative harvest in New South Wales, in combination with the limited movement of East Coast Snapper [Sumpton et al. 2003, Harasti et al. 2015, Stewart et al. 2019] supports the indices of relative abundance derived from the New South Wales trap fishery as being most likely to represent the New South Wales stock. Based on the most suitable model scenarios for New South Wales, the stock assessment estimated that biomass in 2016 was between 20 and 45 per cent of the virgin level [Wortmann et al. 2018]. Standardized catch rates in NSW since 2016 have increased slightly, despite a slight decrease during 2018-19 [Stewart 2020]. The available evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.  

Commercial and recreational catch and fishing effort are at historically low levels in New South Wales. Commercial landings during 2018–19 were approximately 160 t, lower than the 10-year average of 222 t, and substantially lower than during the early 1980s when commercial landings approached 1 000 t per year [Stewart 2020]. The number of days reported fish trapping when Snapper were landed has declined from 4 790 in 2009–10 to approximately3 000 in 2018–19, largely due to management driven reforms to the sector [Stewart 2020]. The recreational harvest of Snapper in New South Wales has declined from approximately 250 000 fish in 2000–01 to 185 000 fish during 2013–14 to 157 000 fish during 2017-18 (noting this recent estimate is limited to households within which recreational fishing licence holders reside), and effort also declined markedly during this period [West et al. 2015, Murphy et al. 2020]. Trends in the size and age compositions in landed catches suggest population rebuilding from around 2008 onwards, with continual increases in the average sizes and ages of fish in commercial landings [Wortmann et al. 2018, Stewart 2020]. This supports the population model estimates of an increasing biomass in recent times under existing levels of harvest. Further supporting an increase in biomass, age ranges have increased within any given size class, particularly those sizes vulnerable to fish trapping. 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, Snapper in New South Wales is classified as a sustainable stock.

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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 
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Snapper
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Fishing methods
New South Wales
Hook and Line
Demersal Longline
Fish Trap
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Bag and possession limits
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Marine park closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Marine park closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Vessel restrictions
Customary fishing management arrangements
Bag and possession limits
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Marine park closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
New South Wales
Commercial 160.09t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 106 t (2017–18)

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. [2020].

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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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Snapper - note confidential catch not shown
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  20. Gardner, MJ, Chaplin, JA, Potter, I, Fairclough, DV and Jackson, G 2017, The genetic structure of a marine teleost, Chrysophrys auratus, in a large, heterogeneous marine embayment. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 1411–1425.
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