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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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Summary

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
Victoria Victoria Eastern Estuaries Undefined CPUE, size composition
Victoria The Gippsland Lakes Depleting Catch, CPUE, size composition
Victoria Victoria Western Estuaries Undefined CPUE, size composition
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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

The Gippsland Lakes

The Gippsland Lakes are a series of temperate coastal lagoons almost 70 km long in eastern Victoria that are connected to the sea by a single permanent narrow entrance at Lakes Entrance. Three main rivers, the Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo, discharge into this system.  

Commercial harvests had dropped considerably since the 1980s, and standardised catch rates from mesh nets declined from 2011–12 to 2018–19 to a level below the lowest point estimated for a reference period of 1986–2015 [Conron et al. 2020] and more recently decreased substantially in response to declining netting effort due to licence attrition [Conron et al. 2020]. Declining catch rates have also been observed during creel surveys and an angler diary program. Standardised catch rates estimated from the creel surveys have remained low compared to historical levels since the early 2000s, and below the reference period (1978–2015) average to only just above the reference period lowest point during 2016–2018 [Conron et al. 2020]. Angler diarist catch rates declined from 2013 to 2016 but have increased in the most recent year to be just below the reference period average in 2018 [Conron et al. 2020].

Length composition data for creel surveys has been stable over the last 15 years with signs of an increase in the median size of fish harvested from 2009 to 2018 [Conron et al. 2020]. There has been an increase in proportions of smaller fish in angler diarist catches in 2017 and 2018 and recruitment of 0-age black bream has been relatively stronger for the last three years [Conron et al. 2020].

The estimated fishing mortality rate experienced by the stock from 2015–2019 was in the order of 0.2 (95% CLs = 0.1–0.3) which is not overly high within the bounds of a species with the life history characteristics of Black Bream, provided that recruitment is relatively consistent.

The above evidence indicates that on balance the stock is unlikely to be depleted based on the fact that higher recruitment has occurred since 2017. However, there is a long history of relatively poor Black Bream recruitment in the Gippsland Lakes which resulted in the decline in abundance of the species.

Given that the current levels of fishing mortality are unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired in the short-term it is likely that the reduction in biomass of Black Bream is primarily a result of negative environmental drivers since ~2012 (see discussion in Williams et al. [2012]). Consequently, the Black Bream biomass is considered to be depleting based this evidence.

Further management measures have been undertaken through the Gippsland Lakes Recovery Plan including the buy-out of all commercial netting licences in March 2020, re-stocking, changes to Black Bream catch limits to reduce recreational catch and for cross-agency habitat improvement [VFA 2020].  

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Gippsland Lakes management unit is classified as a depleting stock.

Victoria Eastern Estuaries

The status of stock biomass and impact of fishing pressure was evaluated using catch per unit effort (CPUE) and size composition data from fishers participating in an angler diary program. There is now no commercial fishery for Black Bream in Lake Tyers and Mallacoota Inlet with commercial fishing being removed from these estuaries in 2003 [Conron et. al. 2010].

Changes in the levels of fishing pressure on Black Bream stocks following the removal of commercial fishing were investigated using data collected by volunteer angler diarists targeting Black Bream in Mallacoota Inlet and Lake Tyers [Conron et. al. 2010]. Total mortality rate estimates of legal‐sized Black Bream, from age‐based cohort analysis of catch data, indicated that the annual mortality declined from 57 per cent to 31–36 per cent following the removal of commercial fishing from Mallacoota Inlet. Data collected in Lake Tyers after the removal of commercial fishing indicated an annual mortality rate of 24 per cent.

There is no recent information about the amount of fishing pressure on the Black Bream populations in Lake Tyers and Mallacoota Inlet and natural mortality has not been estimated. Size composition data show that larger fish (>35 cm TL) are consistently recorded in catches [Conron et al. 2020] suggesting fishing mortality is still likely to be relatively low. Black Bream below the minimum legal size (28 cm) are also regularly caught in both locations, suggesting recent spawning success. Diary angler targeted CPUE has declined to below its average in recent years but in 2018 was above the minimum for the period Conron et al. 2020]. Reduced participation in the angler diary program has increased the uncertainty of recent diary angler CPUE (i.e. recent declines in CPUE, but there is uncertainty to whether these reflect declines in biomass or unreliability of angler-diarist data). Overall, there is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Victoria Eastern Estuaries management unit is classified as an undefined stock.

Victoria Western Estuaries

Black Bream predominantly occur in the estuarine reaches of rivers in western Victoria and Port Phillip Bay. The main indicators used for assessment of the Victoria Western Estuaries management unit are catch per unit effort (CPUE) of harvests by the recreational and commercial sectors. Information on recruitment and fishing pressure is also obtained from size composition data measured by anglers participating in an ongoing angler fishing diary program [Conron and Oliveiro 2016], but these data do not provide estimates of total recreational catch.

There is no direct information on the amount of fishing pressure on the Black Bream population in the Glenelg River. Size composition data shows that larger fish (>35 cm) are consistently recorded in the catches [Conron et al. 2020] suggesting fishing mortality is likely to be relatively low. There have been also consistent catches of undersize fish suggesting recent spawning success with the exception of 2018. The lack of undersize fish recorded by angler diarists in 2018 is unexpected given their prevalence in previous years and this may be due to changes in the fishing gear used or the locations fished. Diary angler targeted CPUE (number of fish per angler hour) in 2018 was just below its long-term average (1997–2015) and mostly well above its minimum during other years [Conron et al. 2020]. 

Similarly, in the Hopkins River there is also no direct information about the amount of fishing pressure on the Black Bream population. Size-composition data shows that larger fish (>35 cm TL) are consistently recorded in catches [Conron et al. 2020] suggesting fishing mortality is likely to be relatively low. There have also been consistent catches of undersize fish suggesting recent spawning success. Diary angler targeted CPUE has fluctuated in recent years above or just below the reference period average with a small number of sampling trips being recorded [Conron et al. 2020]. Reduced participation in the angler diary program has increased the uncertainty of recent angler diarist CPUE. Overall, there is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Victoria Western Estuaries management unit is classified as a undefined stock.

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Biology

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

Biology
Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Black Bream 37 years, 600 mm TL 180–340 TL mm
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Distributions

Distribution of reported commercial catch of Black Bream

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Tables

Fishing methods
Victoria
Commercial
Net
Charter
Diving
Hook and Line
Recreational
Diving
Hook and Line
Indigenous
Various
Management methods
Method Victoria
Charter
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Licence
Size limit
Spatial restrictions
Commercial
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Licence
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Indigenous
Customary fishing permits
Recreational
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Licence
Size limit
Spatial closures
Catch
Victoria
Commercial 34.39t
Indigenous Unknown (No catch under permit)
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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References

  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.
  12. Earl, J, Ward, TM and Ye, Q 2016, Black Bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) Stock Assessment Report 2014/15. Report to PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2008/000810-2. SARDI Research Report Series No. 885. 44pp.
  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).
  20. Lyle, JM, Stark KE and Tracey SR 2014, 2012-13 survey of recreational fishing in Tasmania. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Hobart.
  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.

Downloadable reports

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