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
Victoria Eastern Victoria Undefined Catch
Victoria Western Victoria Sustainable Catch, CPUE, pre-recruit survey, age and length 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

Eastern Victoria

The Eastern Victorian biological stock extends from Wilsons Promontory into southern New South Wales [Morgan et al. unpublished]. In this region commercial harvests are mostly by Victorian and Commonwealth licensed operators. Recreational fishing is also important and thought to be growing, particularly in coastal waters between Lakes Entrance and Corner Inlet-Nooramunga where spawning aggregations are targeted on inshore reefs during the late spring/early summer.

Catch by the Victorian commercial sector is low relative to catches in the Western Victoria stock, averaging approximately 3.5 t per year since 2009–10, and rarely exceeding 5 t per year [Conron et al. 2020]. Catches by Commonwealth operators are higher, averaging approximately 14.5 t since 2009–10 [Conron et al. 2020]. Snapper is a byproduct species in the Commonwealth fishery. Due to the low and sporadic catches, and lack of any notable targeted commercial fishery, there is no reliable information on biomass trends from fishery dependent catch and effort data for the Eastern Victorian biological stock. Recreational catch is also unknown and there are no time series of catch rates or length/age composition for the recreational fishery. 

On the basis of the evidence presented above, the Eastern Victoria biological stock is classified as an undefined stock.

Western Victoria

Assessment of the stock is based on consideration of catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE), and fishery-independent trawl surveys of pre-recruit (young-of-the-year) abundance in Port Phillip Bay, the main spawning and nursery area [Hamer et al. 2011]. Although this stock extends throughout the coastal waters of central/western Victoria and south-east South Australia, the main indicator data are derived from the major bay fisheries in Victoria; Port Phillip Bay and Western Port.

Most of the commercial harvests are from Port Phillip Bay and have dropped considerably since 2010-11, with recent harvests of less than 50 t/yr being among the lowest recorded since 1978 [Conron et al. 2020]. Since 2009/10 harvests by non-Victorian licensed operators from the western stock region have also declined to very low levels due to inter-jurisdictional agreements [Conron et al. 2020]. Commercial effort using haul seine is now very low due to removal of most of the netting from Port Phillip Bay and long-line effort has reduced substantially in recent years due to a reduction of licences and the introduction of catch caps [Conron et al. 2020]. There is no recent information on recreational harvest or effort.

Standardised CPUE of adult snapper by the Port Phillip Bay commercial long-line fishery and recreational anglers (October-December creel surveys) has decreased since the late 2000s – early 2010s in Port Phillip Bay [Conron et al. 2020]. The decrease in the recreational catch rate in Port Phillip Bay was rapid from 2013 to 2014 but has since stabilised. The decline in standardised commercial long-line CPUE has not been as rapid as for anglers, likely representing the superior skill and experience of the few remaining commercial longline fishermen [Conron et al. 2020]. Standardised CPUE for recreational anglers in Western Port for the October-December period has followed a similar trend to Port Phillip Bay, though the decline has been greater [Conron et al. 2020]. The decline in abundance of adult snapper is in agreement with pre-recruit surveys whereby exceptional recruitment in the early 2000’s resulted in very high abundance through until the early 2010’s.

Catch rates from January to April provide information on the passage of juvenile and sub-adult cohorts in the fishery and are therefore inherently variable  reflecting the passage of weaker and stronger cohorts through the fishery. Standardised CPUE for the recreational creel surveys in January-April was around average in Port Phillip Bay in 2018/19  [Conron et al. 2020], but lower in Western Port.

The rapid drop in recreational CPUE from 2013 to 2014 indicates that depletion of strong cohorts has been occurring. Nevertheless, fishery performance remains reasonable for both commercial and recreational fisheries and it was anticipated that the stock would enter a period of lower abundance following low–moderate recruitment from 2006 to 2017. The recreational fishery for adult snapper in Port Phillip Bay is considered sustainable at its current level, having stabilised since 2014, but a decline in Western Port persists. The decline in Western Port is thought to be related to local dynamics rather than deterioration in overall stock status. Recent strong recruitment in 2018 is expected to reverse any declining biomass trends and drive a rebuilding of adult biomass and improved fishery performance over the next 5–10 years. Length compositions are not showing signs of truncation, and commercial fishing pressure has reduced substantially in recent years due to the Port Phillip Bay buy-outs and reduced targeting by South Australian and Commonwealth operators.

The available evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Furthermore, 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 Western Victorian biological stock 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
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Victoria
Bag and possession limits
Gear restrictions
Marine park closures
Size limit
Catch limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Customary fishing permits
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Size limit
Spatial closures
Indigenous Unknown (No catch under permit)
Recreational ~600 t (2006–07)

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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