Coral reef fish - east coast monitoring

The fishery

In Queensland, coral reef fish are harvested by the commercial, recreational, Indigenous and charter fishing sectors. The commercial sector is worth around $31 million (2017-18) at the first point of sale, and there are estimated to be close to 943,000 recreational fishers in Queensland. These species are also culturally important, as over 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owner groups have strong relationships with the natural resources of the Great Barrier Reef.

The main target species of the commercial sector in the Reef Line Fishery are coral trout and redthroat emperor. This fishery also targets other species such as crimson snapper, red emperor, saddletail snapper, spangled emperor and stripey snapper.

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 statewide recreational fishing survey help provide important information on recreational fishing. Charter operators also record catch information in logbooks. Together, these monitoring activities collect valuable information used to assess the sustainability of fish stocks.

Biology and ecology

Fish targeted in the Reef Line Fishery:

  • Red emperor, saddletail snapper and crimson snapper are often encountered together in similar coastal and offshore shoal grounds.
  • Spangled emperor overlap the above areas and also occupy coralline lagoons, seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, flat sandy bottoms and coastal rocky areas.
  • Spangled emperor, common coral trout and redthroat emperor are born female and most change sex to male during their lifetime.
  • Saddletail snapper, crimson snapper, red emperor and stripey snapper do not change sex.
  • Stripey snapper occupy coral reefs and are typically encountered by professional fishers targeting more valuable coral trout for the live fish trade.

Biological monitoring

The Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy: 2017–2027 outlines the government’s fishery reform agenda. The strategy sets out clear targets to be achieved. One of the major commitments under this strategy is to improve existing monitoring as identified in the Monitoring and Research Plan 2017-18. Seven species have been identified as priority for collecting better biological information:

a) common coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus)
b) redthroat emperor (Lethrinus miniatus)
c) saddletail snapper  (Lutjanus malabaricus)
d) crimson snapper (Lutjanus erythropterus)
e)  red emperor  (Lujanus sebae)
f) spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus)
g) stripey snapper (Lutjanus carponotatus)

Biological data and samples are collected from a range of sources, including:

  • measuring and collecting recreationally caught fish through the statewide recreational boat ramp survey program and Keen Angler Program
  • measuring live and dead commercially caught fish at vessel unloads, exporters and seafood processors
  • collecting fish frames from fishers, commercial exporters, seafood processors and the charter sector.

Biological information collected by this program aims to include representative length, age and sex of fish retained by the Reef Line Fishery. Sampling for each of the seven species occurs regionally, along Queensland’s east coast (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Monitoring regions for coral reef fish species
© Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Figure 1. Monitoring regions for coral reef fish species.

What is the data used for?

Biological information helps inform fishery management decisions, by contributing to the assessment of stock status and evaluation of harvest strategy indicators. This biological information, together with other data sources contribute to the sustainable management of the Reef Line Fishery.

Biological data and samples are also shared with other researchers through formal and informal collaborations. These collaborations help maximise the benefit of collected samples and provide additional knowledge to help manage the fishery. Confidential information is not shared.

Monitoring results

Stock status outcomes

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries assesses important Queensland fishery species using the Status of Australia Fish Stocks (SAFS) classification framework and reporting template. SAFS assessments are completed every two years and cover a list of species agreed on by all participating jurisdictions. The department assesses the status of other important species not included in the SAFS assessment every other year.

a) coral trout (Plectropomus sp.) stock status
b) red throat emperor (Lethrinus miniatus) stock status
c) saddletail snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus) stock status
d) crimson snapper (Lutjanus erythropterus) stock status
e) red emperor (Lutjanus sebae) stock status
f) spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulosus) stock status
g) stripey snapper are not evaluated under SAFS

Stock assessments

Stock assessments use statistical and mathematical methods to estimate the status and size of fished populations and predict how they are likely to respond to alternative management choices. It is important to consider the sources of uncertainty within a stock assessment model when interpreting the results. View the most recent stock assessment reports for:

a) common coral trout
b) red throat emperor

Find out more

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