Coral reef fish monitoring

Biological monitoring of coral reef fish on the east coast

The Fishery

Coral reef fish are harvested by the commercial, recreational, indigenous and charter fishing sectors. The commercial fishing sector is worth around $31 million (2016-17)1 at the first point of sale and there are around 642 000 recreational fishers in Queensland2, making these sectors economically, socially and culturally important users of fisheries resources on the Great Barrier Reef.

While the main target species of the commercial sector in the Coral Reef Fin Fish Fishery (CRFFF) are coral trout and red throat emperor, management of the fishery includes a total allowable annual catch for all other coral reef fin fish combined.

Fisheries Queensland monitors the commercial catch of coral reef fish species through commercial fishing logbooks and the automated integrated voice response (AIVR) system. Surveys of recreational and indigenous fishers at boat ramps and the state-wide recreational fishing and logbook program data help provide important information on recreational fishing. Charter operators also record catch information in logbooks. Together, these monitoring activities collect information used to assess the sustainability of fish stocks.

Biological information gaps however, provide challenges for the future management of the CRFFF. Information on annual length and age structure and variability in population parameters across the state are important for assessing the status of fish stocks.

Biological monitoring

The Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017 – 2027 outlines the government’s reform agenda. One of the major commitments is to improve monitoring and research. The Monitoring and Research Plan 2017-183 prioritises areas that need more information. Fisheries Queensland has committed to collecting biological information on five key coral reef fish species to address the emerging knowledge requirements. These five species are:

  1. crimson snapper (Lutjanus erythropterus),
  2. saddletail snapper (L. malabaricus),
  3. stripey snapper (L. carponotatus),
  4. red emperor (L. sebae) and
  5. spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus).

Biological information collected includes length, age and sex of fish being retained.

Biological sampling of coral reef fish is separated into distinct regions along Queensland’s east coast to account for any substantial variations in the population characteristics of the species over the whole region (Figure 1).

Commercial fishers and seafood wholesalers and retailers voluntarily provide access to their catch, allowing their fish to be measured or donating samples (fish frames) for biological data to be collected. The Keen Angler Program collects samples from recreational fishers between Rockhampton and the NSW border and routine state-wide boat ramp surveys provide lengths of fish caught by other recreational fishers.

Figure 1. Monitoring regions for coral reef fish species.

What will the data be used for?

Biological information helps inform fishery management decisions, by contributing to the assessment of stock status and evaluation of harvest strategy indicators (Figure 2). This biological information, together with state-wide recreational fishing surveys, information collected at boat ramps, commercial and charter fishing logbooks and social and economic information, contributes to the sustainable management of Queensland’s fishery resources.

Biological samples and data are also shared with research providers through formal and informal collaborations. These collaborations help maximise the benefit of collected samples and provide additional knowledge to help manage the fishery.

Figure 2. How biological data contribute to assessment and management.

Biology and ecology

  • All species occur across northern Australia.
  • Stripey snapper occur on coral reefs and are typically encountered by professional fishers targeting more valuable coral trout for the live fish trade.
  • Red emperor, saddletail snapper and crimson snapper are often encountered together in similar coastal and offshore shoal grounds or with occasional structure.
  • Spangled emperor overlap the above areas and also occupy coralline lagoons, seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, flat sandy bottoms and coastal rocky areas.
  • Spangled emperor are born female and some change sex to male before reaching maturity.
  • The four lutjanids do not change sex.
  • All five species have a low natural rate of mortality, are long lived and slow to mature. This suggests they are potentially more vulnerable to fishing pressure.

Support and assistance

Routine monitoring of these species is only possible with the voluntary assistance of many commercial and recreational fishers, tackle stores and fish wholesalers and retailers. We would like to take this opportunity to thank these people for their continued support and assistance.

Want to find out more?

Get involved or find out more about the project by contacting Fishery Monitoring staff based at the Northern Fisheries Centre (NFC), Cairns on 13 25 23, visit or email


  2. 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.
  3. Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027: Fisheries Queensland Monitoring and Research Plan (2017). Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.