Mulloway (2020)

Argyrosomus japonicus

  • Jason Earl (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • David Fairclough (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA)
  • Emily Fisher (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA)
  • Julian Hughes (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries)
  • Anthony Roelofs (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)

Date Published: June 2021

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Mulloway is a widely distributed species in Australian waters. Stock status is sustainable in WA and SA, depleted in NSW and undefined in QLD.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Western Australia Western Australia Sustainable

Catch MSY, Catch, CPUE

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Stock Structure

Mulloway has a wide distribution in Australia, from the Gascoyne region on the west coast of Western Australia, around the southern coasts of the continent, and up to the Wide Bay–Burnett region on the east coast of Queensland [Kailola et al. 1993]. 

Biological stock structure for Mulloway in Australia is uncertain. It has been suggested that a single panmictic population occurs in Australia [Archangi 2008]. However, regional differences in genetics, and otolith morphology and chemistry suggest sub-structuring between populations in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia [Barnes et al. 2015, Ferguson et al. 2011].

Here, assessment of stock status for Mulloway is presented at the jurisdictional level—Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

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Stock Status

Western Australia

The majority of Mulloway catches in WA are landed by commercial fishers, making up approximately 70-80 per cent of the total catch over the last ten years [Gaughan and Santoro, 2020]. Annual commercial catches have declined from around 60 t in 2001–02, but have remained relatively steady since 2007–08 at 11–28 t. In 2019, the total State-wide commercial catch was 13 t. The recent lower catch levels are associated with reductions in fishing effort by the main demersal fisheries that catch Mulloway (the West Coast Demersal Scalefish (Interim) Managed Fishery (WCDSIMF) and Gascoyne Demersal Scalefish Managed Fishery (GDSMF) [Gaughan and Santoro, 2020]. Boat-based recreational and charter catches of Mulloway remain low, i.e. < 10 t per year, with most landed in the Gascoyne and West Coast Bioregions [Gaughan and Santoro, 2020; Ryan et al. 2019]. Shore-based recreational catches of Mulloway are unknown.

At the Western Australia stock level, catch per unit effort (CPUE) of Mulloway derived from line fishing methods has remained low since 2008 (after management changes to the WCDSIMF and GDSF) at approximately 2–6 kg per block day (reporting blocks are 60nm×60nm) [DPIRD, unpublished data]. This reflects the low level of commercial targeting of this species. CPUE of those two main fisheries that land Mulloway has been highly variable in the last 10 years. Although CPUE has increased slightly in recent years, this was mostly in the West Coast Bioregion and is not reflected in substantial increases in catch or from changes in targeting [DPIRD, unpublished data]. 

A data-limited Catch-MSY model of the Western Australian stock of Mulloway produced an MSY of 36 t (95 per cent CLs: 25–49 t) and annual catches have fluctuated within or below this band since 1975–76, except for between 1999 and 2002 [DPIRD, unpublished data]. Estimated fishing mortality experienced by the stock in 2018 was 0.05 year-1 (95 per cent CLs: 0.03 to 0.12 year-1). As the upper 95 per cent CL of this performance indicator is below the estimated level of FMSY (0.15 year-1), the stock is unlikely to deplete to a level at which recruitment could be impaired if the current level of catch is maintained. The point estimate for relative stock biomass in 2018 (the depletion level) was 0.66 of the estimated unfished level (95 per cent CLs = 0.38–0.79) [DPIRD, unpublished data]. The point estimate of this performance indicator was above the threshold of 0.5 (BMSY), and the target is considered as any stock biomass level above BMSY. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Furthermore, the 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, Mulloway in Western Australia is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Mulloway biology [Farmer 2008, Ferguson et al. 2013, Silberschneider and Gray 2008]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Mulloway 42 years, 2000 mm TL  2–6 years, 510–1070 mm TL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Mulloway
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Fishing methods
Western Australia
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Beach Seine
Haul Seine
Otter Trawl
Hook and Line
Traditional apparatus
Rod and reel
Management methods
Method Western Australia
Bag limits
Limited entry
Marine park closures
Passenger restrictions
Possession limit
Size limit
Catch limits
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Vessel restrictions
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Size limit
Temporal closures
Bag limits
Licence (boat-based sector)
Marine park closures
Possession limit
Size limit
Western Australia
Commercial 12.84t
Charter 2 t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 2 t (2017/18)

Western Australia – Recreational (Catch totals) Shore based catches are unknown, thus landings are likely to be underestimated.

Western Australia – Indigenous (Management methods) Subject to the defence that applies under Section 211 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and the exemption from a requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, the non-commercial take by Indigenous fishers is covered by the same arrangements as that for recreational fishing.

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

New South Wales – Commercial (Management methods) Fishers using haul nets in the New South Wales commercial Ocean Hauling Fishery are permitted a bycatch allowance of 500 kg of Mulloway per day.

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

New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods)  https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Mulloway - note confidential catch not shown
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  1. Archangi, B 2008, Levels and patterns of genetic diversity in wild and cultured populations of mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus) using mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites, PhD thesis, School of Natural Resource Sciences, Queensland University of Technology.
  2. Barnes, TC, Junge, C, Myers, SA, Taylor, MD, Rogers, PJ, Ferguson, GJ, Lieschke, JA, Donnellan, SC and Gillanders, BM 2015, Population structure in a wide-ranging coastal teleost (Argyrosomus japonicus, Sciaenidae) reflects marine biogeography across southern Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, 67: 1103–1113.
  3. Earl, J 2020, Assessment of the South Australian Lakes and Coorong Fishery in 2018/19. Report to PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2020/000208-01, SARDI Research Report Series No. 1059. 81pp.
  4. Farmer, BM 2008, Comparisons of the biological and genetic characteristics of the mulloway Argyrosomus japonicus (Sciaenidae) in different regions of Western Australia, PhD thesis, Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research, Murdoch University, Perth.
  5. Ferguson, GJ, Ward, TM and Gillanders, BM 2011, Otolith shape and elemental composition: complimentary tools for stock discrimination of mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus) in southern Australia, Fisheries Research, 110: 75–83.
  6. Ferguson, GJ, Ward, TM, Ivey, A and Barnes, T 2013, Life history of Argyrosomus japonicus, a large sciaenid at the southern part of its global distribution: implications for fisheries management, Fisheries Research, 151: 148–157.
  7. Gaughan, D and Santoro, K 2020, Status reports of the fisheries and aquatic resources of Western Australia 2018/19: The State of the Fisheries, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, Perth.
  8. Giri, K and Hall, K 2015, South Australian recreational fishing survey 2013–14, Fisheries Victoria Internal Report Series No. 62, Victoria.
  9. Goodyear, CP 1993, Spawning stock biomass per recruit in fisheries management: foundation and current use, in SJ Smith, JJ Hunt and D Rivard (ed.s), Risk evaluation and biological reference points for fisheries management, Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 120, NRC Research Press, pp 67–81.
  10. Henry, GW and Lyle, JM 2003, The national recreational and Indigenous fishing survey, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Fisheries Action Program Project FRDC, project 1999/158, New South Wales Fisheries final report series 48, NSW Fisheries, Cronulla.
  11. Hughes, JM 2020, Status of Australian Fish Stocks 2020 – NSW Stock status summary – Mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus).
  12. Kailola, P, Williams, MJ, Stewart, PC, Reichelt, RE, McNee, A and Grieve, C 1993, Australian fisheries resources, Bureau of Resource Sciences and Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra. 
  13. Mace, PM and Sissenwine, MP 1993, How much spawning per recruit is enough?, in SJ Smith, JJ Hunt and D Rivard (ed.s), Risk evaluation and biological reference points for fisheries management, Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 120, NRC Research Press, pp 101–118.
  14. Murphy, JJ, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, Hughes JM, West, LD and Stark, KE 2020, The Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program. Survey of recreational fishing in 2017–18, Fisheries final report series 158, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wollongong.
  15. QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, www.qfish.gov.au
  16. Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai, EK, Smallwood, CB, Tate, A, Taylor, SM, and Wise, BS 2017, Statewide survey of boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2017/18. Fisheries Research Report No. 297. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Government of Western Australia, Perth.
  17. Silberschneider, V and Gray CA 2005, Arresting the decline of the commercial and recreational fisheries for Mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus), Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2001/027, final report series 82, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Cronulla.
  18. Silberschneider, V and Gray, CA 2008, Synopsis of biological, fisheries and aquaculture-related information on mulloway Argyrosomus japonicus (Pisces: Sciaenidae), with particular reference to Australia, Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 24(1): 7–17.
  19. Silberschneider, V, Gray, CA and Stewart, J 2009, Age, growth, maturity and the overfishing of the iconic sciaenid, Argyrosomus japonicus, in south-eastern Australia, Fisheries Research, 95(2–3): 220–229.
  20. Stewart, J, Hughes, JM, Stanley, C and Fowler, AM 2020, The influence of rainfall on recruitment success and commercial catch for the large sciaenid, Argyrosomus japonicus, in eastern Australia. Marine Environmental Research, 157, 104924.
  21. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide recreational fishing survey 2013–14, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  22. 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, Wollongong.

Downloadable reports

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