Black Bream (2020)
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.
Stock Status Overview
|South Australia||Lakes and Coorong Fishery||Depleted||
Catch, targeted effort, age composition
|South Australia||South Australia Marine Scalefish Fishery||Sustainable||
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).
Lakes and Coorong Fishery
The Lakes and Coorong Fishery (LCF) has historically been the most important of South Australia’s commercial fisheries for Black Bream, consistently accounting for around 85 per cent of the state’s total commercial catch of the species since the 1980s. The Lakes and Coorong Black Bream stock encompasses the populations in the Coorong estuary and Lower Lakes at the southern end of the Murray River [Earl et al. 2016]. The most recent stock assessment of Black Bream in the Coorong estuary and Lower Lakes was completed in 2016 and used a weight-of-evidence approach that considered fishery data and fishery age structure data to 30 June 2015 [Earl et al. 2016]. The primary measures used to monitor biomass and fishing mortality are total catch and targeted effort from commercial gillnet fishers, and fishery age structures.
Total catch of Black Bream in the LCF peaked at around 72 tonnes (t) in 1980–81 and remained above 45 t per year (t.yr-1) until 1985–86. Catch abruptly declined in the late 1980s and averaged 4.2 t.yr-1 from 1990–91 to 2018–19. The total catch of <1 t in 2018–19 was the lowest on record. Low catches since the 1980s have been associated with low targeted effort. Given the high wholesale value of Black Bream, the low levels of targeted effort and catch since the 1980s likely reflect low fishable biomass. The state-wide recreational catch was estimated at approximately 4.5 t in 2013–14 [Giri and Hall 2015], although the proportion of the catch taken from the Coorong estuary is not known.
Annual age structures of Black Bream taken in the commercial fishery from 2008–09 to 2018–19 showed catches comprised mostly fish 4‒17 years of age [Earl et al. 2016; Ye et al. 2020]. Fish older than 10 years were rare, despite the potential for this species to reach 32 years of age [Ye et al. 2018]. Within any year, few age classes contributed most to the catch, reflecting the relative strength of these year classes. This variation in year-class strength relates to inter-annual variation in recruitment. Larger year classes appear to be linked to freshwater releases to the Coorong estuary in 1997–98, 2003–04, 2006–07, 2009–10 and 2012–13, confirming that environmental conditions associated with freshwater inflow are important for the successful reproduction of local Black Bream. The recruitment of these year classes to the fishable biomass since the mid 1990s indicates that environmental conditions in the Coorong estuary supported successful spawning in those years. Despite this recruitment, fishery production has remained low compared to historical levels. Recruitment levels over the past 25 years have not been strong enough to support recovery of the stock. In 2018, successful recruitment of Black Bream in the Coorong estuary was evident by the detection of higher than average abundances of young-of-year [Ye et al. 2018]. Recruitment of these juveniles to the fishable biomass is expected to take at least several years. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock has been reduced through fishing mortality, such that recruitment is impaired. In 2018 and 2019, management measures were implemented to recover the stock, but have not yet resulted in measurable improvements.
On the basis of the evidence provided, the Lakes and Coorong Fishery management unit is classified as a depleted stock.
South Australia Marine Scalefish Fishery
Black Bream is considered a tertiary species in South Australia's commercial multispecies, multi-gear and multi-sectoral Marine Scalefish Fishery (MSF). The MSF Black Bream stock encompasses the populations in marine waters of South Australia, outside the Coorong Estuary and Lower Lakes [Earl et al. 2016]. The most recent assessment of Black Bream in the MSF was completed in 2020 [Steer et al. 2020] and incorporated data collected until the end of December 2018. The primary measures of biomass and fishing mortality are total catch, total effort and nominal catch rate from commercial fishers. Total annual catch in the MSF was historically low (<1.5 t.yr-1) from 1983–84 to 2005–06, as a result of low targeted effort. Between 2014–15 and 2018–19, catches were marginally higher (1.7–3.2 t.yr-1) and estimates of annual catch rate were, on average, around 80 per cent higher than the long-term average catch rate for the sector. The total catch of 2.8 t in 2018–19 was the second highest catch recorded in the fishery. The most recent estimate of total state-wide recreational catch of Black Bream was 4.5 t in 2013–14 [Giri and Hall 2015]. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted, that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired and that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.
On the basis of the evidence provided, the South Australia MSF management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.
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|
Distribution of reported commercial catch of Black Bream
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Recreational||4.5 t (in 2013–14)|
New South Wales – Recreational (catch) Murphy et al. .
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).
Commercial catch of Black Bream - note confidential catch not shown
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