Black Bream (2020)

Acanthopagrus butcheri

  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Matt Broadhurst (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries)
  • Jason Earl (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Rodney Duffy (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Nils Krueck (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania)

Date Published: June 2021

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Black Bream is a primarily estuarine species found around Australia's southern coastline. Assessments are presented here for nine management units, distributed along the coasts of NSW, VIC, TAS, SA and WA. Of these units, four are classified as sustainable, one as depleting, one as depleted, and three as undefined.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
New South Wales Southern New South Wales Undefined

Catch, CPUE

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Stock Structure

Black Bream have a wide distribution in the estuaries of southern Australia from central New South Wales to the central Western Australian coast, including Tasmania [Kailola et al. 1993]. Black Bream are estuarine-dependent, completing much of their life cycle within a single estuary [Chaplin et al. 1997, Conron et al. 2016, Earl et al. 2016]. Genetic studies of Black Bream in Victoria and Western Australia have indicated that, while there has been gene flow between adjacent estuaries, there is evidence of isolation by distance between populations [Chaplin et al. 1997, Farrington et al. 2000, Burridge et al. 2004, Burridge and Versace 2007]. Results of tagging studies conducted in the Swan River [Norriss et al. 2002], Gippsland Lakes [Butcher and Ling 1962, Hindell et al. 2008] and the Coorong estuary [Hall 1984] found limited or no evidence of coastal migration or emigration between estuaries. This indicates that estuarine Black Bream populations should be managed as distinct biological stocks. However, for most fisheries management agencies this is not practical.

Black Bream and the closely related Yellowfin Bream, Acanthopagrus australis, also exhibit considerable levels of hybridisation where their distributions overlaps in south-eastern Australia [Farrington et al. 2000, Roberts et al. 2009, 2010, 2011, Ochwada-Doyle et al. 2012], further complicating status determination. 

Furthermore, Black Bream growth, size- and age-at-maturity and recruitment are strongly influenced by environmental conditions, particularly fresh water influx into estuaries [Norriss et al. 2002, Cottingham 2008]. It is therefore likely that over local scales at least, annual recruitment strength depends on environmental conditions, with substantial inter-annual variation in recruitment affecting individual stock demographics and biomasses. These environmental drivers complicate management across multiple catchments.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the management unit level—Western Australia West Coast Estuaries, Western Australia South Coast Estuaries (Western Australia); Southern New South Wales (New South Wales); Victoria Western Estuaries, The Gippsland Lakes, Victoria Eastern Estuaries (Victoria); Tasmania Scalefish Fishery (Tasmania); Lakes and Coorong Fishery and South Australia Marine Scalefish Fishery (South Australia).

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Stock Status

Southern New South Wales

Black Bream are known to occur in estuaries and coastal lagoons in New South Wales south of ~32o latitude, but there is substantial hybridization with Yellowfin Bream [Roberts et al. 2009, 2010, 2011, Ochwada-Doyle et al. 2012]. Genetic analyses of 688 juvenile fish from five coastal lagoons in southern New South Wales by Roberts et al. [2010] found that 50 per cent were Yellowfin Bream, 45 per cent were Yellowfin/Black Bream hybrids and only 5 per cent were Black Bream. Ochwada-Doyle et al. [2012] observed no differences with hybrids in terms of their growth, population structure or maturity, but excessive introgression has negative implications for the persistence of Black Bream as a species in this region.

Difficulty in visually separating both species of bream and hybrids means that all have been historically amalgamated with Yellowfin Bream for reporting purposes, confounding inter-specific estimates of commercial and especially recreational catches [Murphy et al. 2020]. Nevertheless, since 2009, commercial fishers have recorded 'Black Bream' as a separate species (mostly south of 31o S), where approximately 80 per cent of their catches are landed using mesh nets and 17 per cent using haul seines. Estimated catches remained fairly stable at approximately 20 t each year from 2010 to 2015, and then decreased to 14 t in 2017 and 10 t in 2019, but with simultaneous reductions in fishing effort. While the lower effort has resulted in stable nominal catch rates, additional data are required to determine the exact compositions of Black Bream in catches.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Southern New South Wales management unit is classified as an undefined stock.

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Black Bream biology [Kuiter 1993, Sarre and Potter 2000, Walker and Neira 2001, Cheshire et al. 2013]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Black Bream 37 years, 600 mm TL 180–340 TL mm
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Black Bream

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Fishing methods
New South Wales
Mesh Net
Haul Seine
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Fishing gear and method restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Bag limits
In possession limits
Size limit
Spatial closures
New South Wales
Commercial 9.87t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

New South Wales – Recreational (catch) Murphy et al. [2020].

New South Wales – 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.

Tasmania – Recreational (management methods) In Tasmania, a recreational licence is required for fishers using dropline or longline gear, along with nets, such as gillnet or beach seine. The species is subject to a minimum size limit of 250 mm. A bag limit of five individuals and a possession limit of ten individuals is in place for recreational fishers fishing in marine waters.

Tasmania – Indigenous (management methods) In Tasmania, Indigenous persons engaged in traditional fishing activities in marine waters are exempt from holding recreational fishing licences, but must comply with all other fisheries rules as if they were licensed. If using pots, rings, set lines or gillnets, Indigenous fishers must obtain a unique identifying code (UIC). The policy document "Recognition of Aboriginal Fishing Activities” details application procedures for issuing a UIC.

Western Australia – Recreational (Management methods) In Western Australia a recreational fishing licence is only required for fishing from a boat. Black Bream are subjected to a minimum size limit of 250 mm TL and a bag limit of six(of which only two fish may be over 400 mm TL if fishing in the Swan and Canning rivers).

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Black Bream - note confidential catch not shown

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  1. Burridge, CP and Versace, VL 2007, Population genetic structuring in Acanthopagrus butcheri (Pisces: Sparidae): does low gene flow among estuaries apply to both sexes? Marine Biotechnology 9, 33–44.
  2. Burridge, CP, Hurt, AC, Farrington, LW, Coutin, PC and Austin, CM 2004, Stepping stone gene flow in an estuarine dwelling sparid from south‐east Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 64, 805–819.
  3. Butcher, AD and Ling, JK 1962, Bream tagging experiments in East Gipsland during April and May 1944. Victorian Naturalist 78, 256–264.
  4. Chaplin, JA, Baudains, GA, Gill, HS, Mccullock, R and Potter, IC1997, Are assemblages of black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) in different estuaries genetically distinct? International Journal of Salt Lake Research, 6(4):303–321.
  5. Cheshire, KJM, Ye, Q, Fredberg, LJ and Earl, J 2013, Aspects of reproductive biology of five key species in the Murray Mouth and Coorong. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2009/000014-3 SARDI Research Report Series No 699. 65pp.
  6. Conron S.D. (2004) Evaluation of recreational management controls of commercially important scalefish species. Final Report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project No. 1998/146. Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute, Queenscliff.
  7. Conron, S, Giri K, Hall, K and Hamer, P 2016, Gippsland Lakes Fisheries Assessment 2016. Fisheries Victoria Science Report Series No. 14, Fisheries Victoria, Queenscliff.
  8. Conron, SD and Oliveiro, P 2016, State-wide Angler fishing Diary Program 2011–14 Recreational Fishing Grants Program Research Report June 2016. Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Queenscliff. 45 pp.
  9. Conron, SD, Bell, JD, Ingram, BA and Gorfine, HK 2020, Review of key Victorian fish stocks — 2019, Victorian Fisheries Authority Science Report Series No. 15, First Edition, November 2020. VFA: Queenscliff. 176pp.
  10. Conron, SD, Grixti D and Morison AK 2010, Survival of snapper and black bream released by recreational hook-and-line fishers in sheltered coastal temperate ecosystems. Final report to Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project No. 2003/074. Department of Primary Industries, Queenscliff, Victoria.
  11. Cottingham, A 2008, The current state of the stock of Black Bream Acanthopagrus butcheri in the Swan-Canning Estuary. Honours Thesis, Murdoch University, Western Australia.
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  13. Farrington, LW, Austin, CM and Coutin, PC 2000, Allozyme variation and stock structure in the black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri (Munro) (Sparidae) in southern Australia: implications for fisheries management, aquaculture and taxonomic relationship with Acanthopagrus australis (Gunther). Fisheries Management and Ecology 7, 265–279.
  14. Giri, K, Hall, K 2015, South Australian Recreational Fishing Survey. Fisheries Victoria Internal Report Series No. 62.
  15. Hall, DA 1984, The Coorong: Biology of the major fish species and fluctuations in catch rates 1976–1983, SAFIC 8(1), 3–17.
  16. Hindell, JS, Jenkins, GP and Womersley, B 2008, Habitat utilisation and movement of black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri (Sparidae) in an Australia estuary. Marine Ecology Progress Series 366, 219–229.
  17. Kailola, PJ, Williams, MJ Stewart, PC, Reichelt, RE, McNee, A and Graive, C 1993, Australian Fisheries Recourses. Canberra, Australia. Vol. Australian Fisheries Resources pp.18–320 (Bureau of Resource Sciences, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation; Brisbane).
  18. Kemp J, Brown L, Bridge N and Conron S 2013, Black Bream Stock Assessment 2012. Fisheries Victoria Assessment Report No 42.
  19. Kuiter, RH 1993, ʹCoastal fishes of southeastern Australia.ʹ (University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, Hawaii).
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  21. Lyle, JM, Stark, KE, Ewing, GP and Tracey, SR 2019, 2017-18 Survey of recreational fishing in Tasmania. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Hobart, Tasmania.
  22. Lyle, JM, Tracey, SR, Stark KE and Wotherspoon, S 2009, 2007–08 survey of recreational fishing in Tasmania. Tasmania Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute, Hobart.
  23. Murphy, JJ, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, West, LD, Stark, KE and Hughes, JM 2020, The NSW Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - survey of recreational fishing, 2017/18. NSW DPI - Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158.
  24. Norriss, JV, Tregonning, JE, Lenanton, RCJ and Sarre, GA, 2002, Biological synopsis of the black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri (Munro)(Teleostei: Sparidae) in Western Australia with reference to information from other southern states. Fisheries Research Report No.93, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia.
  25. Ochwada-Doyle, F, Roberts, D, Gray, C, Barnes, L, Haddy, J and Fearman, J 2012, Characterizing the biological traits and life history of Acanthopagrus (Sparidae) hybrid complexes: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology, 81: 1540–1558.
  26. Roberts, DC, Gray, CA, West RF and Ayre, DJ 2009, Evolutionary impacts of hybridization and interspecific gene flow on an obligately estuarine fish. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22: 27–35.
  27. Roberts, DG, Gray, CA, West, RJ and Ayre, DJ 2010, Marine genetic swamping: hybrids replace an obligately estuarine fish. Molecular Ecology, 19: 508–520.
  28. Roberts, DG, Gray, CA, West, RJ and Ayre, DJ 2011, Temooral stability of a hybrid swarm between the migratory marine and estuaries fishes Acnathopagrus australis and A. butcheri, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 421: 199–204
  29. Sarre, GA and Potter, IC 2000, Variation in age compositions and growth rates of Acanthopagrus butcheri (Sparidae) among estuaries: some possible contributing factors. Fishery Bulletin 98, 785–799.
  30. Steer, MA, Fowler, AJ, Rogers, PJ, Bailleul, F, Earl, J, Matthews, D, Drew, M, and Tsolos, A, 2020, Assessment of the South Australian Marine Scalefish Fishery in 2018. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2017/000427-3. SARDI Research Report Series No. 1049. 214pp.
  31. Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA), June 2020. Gippsland Lakes Recreational Fishery Plan 2020. 20 pp.
  32. Walker, S and Neira, F J 2001, Aspects of the reproductive biology and early life history of black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri (Sparidae), in a brackish lagoon system in southeastern Australia. Journal of Ichthyology and Aquatic Biology, 4, 135–142.
  33. Williams, J, Hindell, JS, Swearer, SE and Jenkins GP 2012, Influence of freshwater flows on the distribution of eggs and larvae of black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri within a drought-affected estuary.
  34. Ye, Q, Bucater, L and Short, D, 2018, Coorong fish condition monitoring 2016/17: Black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri), greenback flounder (Rhombosolea tapirina) and smallmouthed hardyhead (Atherinosoma microstoma) populations. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2011/000471-6. SARDI Research Report Series No. 979. 89pp.
  35. Ye, Q, Bucater, L, Short, D and Giatas, G 2020, Coorong fish condition monitoring 2008-2019: Black bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri), greenback flounder (Rhombosolea tapirina) and smallmouthed hardyhead (Atherinosoma microstoma) populations. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2011/000471-7. SARDI Research Report Series No. 1066. 97 pp.

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