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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)

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Summary

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
South Australia Western Victoria Sustainable Catch, CPUE, pre-recruit survey, age and length composition
South Australia Gulf St. Vincent Depleted

Catch, CPUE, age composition, fishery independent biomass survey, estimated biomass

South Australia Spencer Gulf/West Coast Depleted

Catch, CPUE, age composition, fishery independent biomass survey, estimated biomass

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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

Gulf St. Vincent

The Gulf St. Vincent (GSV) stock of Snapper includes two regional populations: Northern Gulf St. Vincent (NGSV) and Southern Gulf St. Vincent (SGSV). NGSV has recently supported the bulk of the biomass and is the primary nursery area for the stock [Fowler et al. 2016]. The population dynamics are driven by inter-annual variation in recruitment of the 0+ year class and subsequent southward migration from NGSV to SGSV.

The most recent assessment of the GSVS of Snapper was completed in August 2020 [Fowler et al. 2020], which considered data up to December 2019. This assessment followed from the total closure of this fishery that was implemented on the 1st of November 2019. Stock status has deteriorated since 2015, despite the implementation of numerous fishery management changes between 2012 and 2016 to reduce the commercial catch and to increase reproductive output to provide the opportunity for improved recruitment [Fowler et al. 2016, Fowler et al. 2019, Fowler et al. 2020]. 

For the recent stock assessment, the primary fishery performance indicators considered were: total catch, effort and CPUE from commercial fishers; regional estimates of spawning biomass in 2013, 2018 and 2020 determined using the daily egg production method (DEPM); and measures of recruitment strength from annual age compositions, determined from commercial market sampling [Fowler et al. 2020]. All data sets were also integrated in a computer stock assessment model (SnapEst) that produced time-series of annual estimates of output parameters that included: fishable biomass; recruitment; harvest fraction; and, egg production. 

Throughout the mid-2000s, the GSV stock produced the highest catches ever recorded in South Australia [Fowler et al. 2020]. Whilst catches were low between 1984 and 2006, they increased rapidly from 2006 to 2010, culminating in the record catch of 454 t in the latter year. Catches remained high until 2015.  This period of high catches relates, to some extent, to the transformation from a largely handline to a longline fishery, with the adoption of new longline technology that increased the efficiency of fishing. Targeted longline effort and CPUE both increased rapidly between 2008 and 2010 to record levels and also remained relatively high to 2015. Nevertheless, since 2015, there have been substantial declines in total catch, targeted longline catch, effort, CPUE, and the number of longline fishers targeting Snapper. These trends in the fishery statistics are consistent with an increase in biomass that was maintained until around 2015, followed by a rapid decline. Fishery-independent estimates of spawning biomass from applications of the DEPM in 2014, 2018 and 2020 confirm the decline in biomass, from 2,780 t in 2014 to 811 t, despite an expansion of survey area in 2020 [Fowler et al. 2020].

Outputs from SnapEst show fishable biomass increased from a low level in the 1990s to a record level in 2011, before declining by 90% between 2011 and 2020. The estimate of fishable biomass in 2020 was 456 t, the lowest estimated value. The increasing trend in biomass through the 2000s reflected recruitment of numerous strong year classes (1991, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2009) to the population. The subsequent reduction in biomass related to relatively poor recruitment from 2009 to 2017, when catches remained high and harvest fractions increased. Model-estimated egg production in 2020 was 2% of that expected for an unfished stock. Average recruitment over the last three years was 88% lower than the historical level. 

In 2019, the status of the GSV stock was changed from ‘sustainable’ to ‘depleting’ [Fowler et al. 2019]. This change reflected the decline in spawning biomass estimated from DEPM surveys that had occurred since 2014, poor recruitment since 2009, and persistent high targeted fishery catch and effort. The evidence in 2020 demonstrated ongoing deterioration of this stock: (i) commercial fishery statistics show further decline in 2019; (ii) the 2020 DEPM estimate confirmed the low level of spawning biomass; (iii) poor recruitment between 2010 and 2017, despite a moderate year class in 2014; and (iv) model-estimated fishable biomass and egg production have declined since 2011, and were at their lowest levels in 2020.

The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is likely to be depleted and that recruitment is likely to be impaired. The above evidence indicates that the current fishing mortality is constrained by management to a level that should allow the stock to recover from its recruitment impaired state; however, measureable improvements are yet to be detected.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Gulf St. Vincent biological stock is classified as a depleted stock.

Spencer Gulf/West Coast

The Spencer Gulf/West Coast (SG/WC) stock encompasses the regional populations of Northern Spencer Gulf (NSG), Southern Spencer Gulf (SSG) and the west coast of Eyre Peninsula (WC) [Fowler et al. 2017]. NSG provides the primary nursery area for the whole stock. The population dynamics are strongly driven by inter-annual variation in recruitment of the 0+ year class and subsequent emigration from NSG to adjacent regional populations [Fowler et al. 2017]. In particular, occasional strong year classes are evident in age compositions, and contribute to population abundance, biomass and fishery productivity for many years [Fowler et al. 2016]. 

The most recent assessment of stock status was completed in August 2020, having considered data up to December 2019 [Fowler et al. 2020]. This assessment followed from the total closure of this fishery that was implemented on the 1[st] November 2019. Stock status had deteriorated since 2012, despite the implementation of significant management changes between 2012 and 2016 to reduce the commercial catch and to increase reproductive output to provide the opportunity for improved recruitment [Fowler et al. 2016]. 

For the recent stock assessment, the primary fishery performance indicators considered were: total catch, effort and CPUE from commercial fishers; regional estimates of spawning biomass in 2013, 2018 and 2019 determined using the daily egg production method; and measures of recruitment strength from annual age compositions, determined from commercial market sampling. All data sets were also integrated in a computer stock assessment model (SnapEst), that produced time-series of annual estimates of output parameters that included: fishable biomass; recruitment; harvest fraction; and, egg production. 

Across the 36-year time-series of commercial fishery statistics from 1984 to 2019, estimates of total catch, effort and CPUE for the SG/WC stock have varied cyclically over time [Fowler et al. 2020]. Nevertheless, from the mid-2000s, all commercial fishery statistics showed declining trends, with particularly significant drops since 2012. By 2019, most of these fishery performance indicators had declined to their historically lowest levels. Such trends are consistent with persistent declines in biomass. The results of the three applications of the DEPM confirmed the inference from the commercial fishery statistics that the spawning biomass of Snapper in NSG had further declined from a low level in 2013. The estimate in 2018 of 192 t was 23% lower than the estimate for 2013. The DEPM estimate for 2019 of 177 t represents further stock reduction due to the large expansion in the surveyed area considered in 2019. 

Recent age compositions for both NSG and SSG showed the lack of any strong recruitment year classes since 1999, suggesting that recruitment throughout the 2000s had been relatively weak. Age structures for the years of 2017, 2018 and 2019 show the population in NSG was dominated by small, young fish that were up to five years of age, with few older fish. Such age structures contrast with historical ones that included many fish >20 years of age and some >30 years old [Fowler et al. 2016]. These data show that the age structures for NSG are severely truncated and that recent recruitment has been low. For SSG, weak year classes in the age structures indicate that rates of migration from NSG have been poor, reflecting low recruitment to the latter region throughout the 2000s. 

The estimates of fishable biomass from the SnapEst model declined year-to-year from 5,350 t in 2005 to 468 t in 2020, the lowest estimated value. Model outputs indicate that this decline in fishable biomass relates to poor recruitment throughout the 2000s and to increasing harvest fractions, related to the continued fishing of a depleting stock. The model outputs also show that egg production in 2019 was 2% of that expected for an unfished stock and that average recruitment was 81% lower than the historical mean. 

Overall, several independent datasets demonstrate that the fishable biomass and recruitment for the SG/WC stock are at historically low levels [Fowler et al. 2020]. Indicators of low stock levels include: (i) low estimates of commercial catch, effort and CPUE; (ii) the absence of large, old fish in the population; (iii) lack of evidence for the recruitment of any new strong year classes; and (iv) ongoing declines in spawning biomass, from the low level in 2013. The decline in biomass of the SG/WC stock has occurred over a number of years and has been apparent at the regional and biological stock levels since 2012 [Fowler et al. 2013]. The primary causes of the decline are poor recruitment since 1999, evident as the lack of strong year classes in annual age structures throughout the 2000s [Fowler et al. 2016a, Fowler et al. 2019], coupled with ongoing fishing of a depleting stock.

The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is likely to be depleted and that recruitment is likely to be impaired. The above evidence indicates that the current fishing mortality is constrained by management to a level that should allow the stock to recover from its recruitment impaired state; however, measureable improvements are yet to be detected.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Spencer Gulf/ West Coast biological stock is classified as a depleted 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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Biology

Snapper biology [Jackson et al. 2010, Stewart et al. 2010, Wakefield et al. 2015, Fowler et al. 2016, Wakefield et al. 2016]

Biology
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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Distributions

Distribution of reported commercial catch of Snapper
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Tables

Fishing methods
South Australia
Commercial
Unspecified
Handline
Set longline
Indigenous
Spearfishing
Hook and Line
Recreational
Spearfishing
Hook and Line
Charter
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method South Australia
Charter
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Commercial
Catch limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Indigenous
Bag limits
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Recreational
Bag and boat limits
Gear restrictions
Seasonal closures
Size limit
Spatial closures
Catch
South Australia
Commercial 280.16t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 332 t (2013–14)

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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References

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  43. Sumpton, WD, Ovenden, JR, Keenan CP and Street, R 2008, Evidence for a stock discontinuity of Snapper (Pagrus auratus) on the east coast of Australia, Fisheries Research, 94(1): 92–98.
  44. Sumpton, WD, Sawynok, B, Carstens, N 2003, Localised movement of snapper (Pagrus auratus, Sparidae) in a large subtropical marine embayment. Marine and Freshwater Research 54:923–930
  45. Taylor, S, Webley, J and McInnes K 2012, 2012 Statewide recreational Fishing Survey, Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland.
  46. Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019/20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane
  47. Wakefield, CB, Fairclough, DV, Lenanton, RCJ and Potter, IC 2011, Spawning and nursery habitat partitioning and movement patterns of Pagrus auratus (Sparidae) on the lower west coast of Australia, Fisheries Research 109: 243–251
  48. Wakefield, CB, Potter, IC, Hall NG, Lenanton RCJ, and Hesp SA 2015, Marked variations in reproductive characteristics of snapper (Chrysophrys auratus, Sparidae) and their relationship with temperature over a wide latitudinal range. ICES Journal of Marine Science 70: 2341–2349
  49. Wakefield, CB, Potter, IC, Hall NG, Lenanton RCJ, and Hesp SA 2016, Timing of growth zone formations in otoliths of snapper, Chrysophrys auratus, in subtropical and temperate waters differ and growth follows a parabolic relationship with latitude, ICES Journal of Marine Science 74: 180–192
  50. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland.
  51. West, LD, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle, JM and Ochwada-Doyle, FA 2015, Survey of recreational fishing in New South wales and the ACT, 2013–14, Fisheries Final Report Series 149, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Sydney.
  52. Wise, BS, St John, J and Lenanton, RC (eds) 2007, Spatial scales of exploitation among populations of demersal scalefish: implications for management, part 1, Stock status of the key indicator species for the demersal scalefish fishery in the West Coast Bioregion, Fisheries research report 163, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  53. Wortmann, J 2020, Queensland rocky reef finfish harvest and catch rates, Project Report, The State of Queensland.
  54. Wortmann, J, O’Neill, MF, Sumpton, W and Stewart, J 2018, Stock assessment of Australian east coast snapper, Chrysophrys auratus. Predictions of stock status and reference points for 2016. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Downloadable reports

Click the links below to view reports from other years for this fish.