RAC QLD: Informing inter-jurisdictional snapper management in eastern Australia

Project Number:



Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QLD)

Principal Investigator:

Wayne Sumpton

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:



Adoption, Environment, Industry

Historic snapper catch information from Qld and NSW

Date Published:

Snapper has been fished since the early development of the colony around Sydney Harbour in the late 18th century, but it was the arrival of steam power in the 1860’s that enabled fishers to start regularly targeting the abundant schools of snapper occurring in the deep-water fishing grounds outside of the sheltered bays and estuaries along the east coast of Australia.  This article covers some of the history.

East coast snapper genetic stock structure

Date Published:
Recent genetic research carried out as part of the present project has shown there are two regions of genetically different snapper off the Australian east coast, where it was previously believed all snapper were part of a single genetic stock. This article shows new information indicates there is one broad region of genetic similarity from the top of the species’ range in north Queensland extending into southern New South Wales (now referred to as the ‘northern’ genetic stock – coloured blue) and a second, genetically different region is found from southern New South Wales south to Victoria and Tasmania (‘southern’ genetic stock).

Overview of East Coast Snapper Project

Date Published:December 2015


In the recent “Status of Key Australian Fish Stocks Reports 2012” the status of snapper on the east coast was not defined because the stock was given a different status in each jurisdiction based on different assessment approaches and criteria for defining status. The need for a single, robust, consensus approach was identified as a priority in a FRDC funded national workshop on snapper held at SARDI in March 2013. In particular it was noted that, underpinning a unified approach to assessment and management, there is a need for: a better understanding of stock structure, a better understanding of the utility of fishery independent data sources, and better engagement with stakeholders.

The project explicitly addresses a key Program 2 – Industry Priority identified as relevant to the FRABs in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.  The systems and approaches developed as a result of this research will serve as a model in other fisheries where different jurisdictions share a common stock but lack a consistent assessment and management decision making framework. 

Media Releases

Understanding the science of East Coast snapper stocks - 6 Jan 2016

Other publications 

Review of snapper stock structure – 29 April 2016

 Snapper data summary – 29 April 2016

If you have or are aware of any data not listed here that may be of use to the project, please email eastcoastsnapper@frdc.com.au. We are interested in personal fishing logs or club records as these may help to fill in gaps in the record.


East Cost Snapper steering committee

Members of the steering committee will include fishery scientists, fishing community representatives and fishery managers. Having this diverse membership ensures that stakeholder knowledge and developments in snapper science as well as scientific data are taken into account.

The role
Stakeholder members on the steering committee are appointed on the basis of their individual expertise, knowledge and experience. Members are appointed to represent the best interests of the wider fishing community and public in interpreting the project science and communicating outcomes for effective management of snapper. Stakeholder members are not appointed as representatives of any particular interest group or individual.

The roles of stakeholder members on the steering committee are to:

  1. Contribute knowledge of and experience in the snapper fishery to committee deliberations.
  2. Contribute to the development and implementation of strategies to gather information from, and deliver information to, the wider fishing community and public.
  3. Consult closely with stakeholder peers through port-level associations, regional associations, peak industry bodies and other avenues as necessary

This is a volunteer position, however travel costs associated with meetings will be reimbursed.

Who should apply?Applicants should meet the following criteria:

  1. Have a good understanding of snapper fishing and fisheries (commercial or recreational sector).
  2. Have some understanding of fishery stock assessment or willingness to learn.
  3. Be willing to assist in the communication of complex ideas and issues in a clear and simple manner.
  4. Be willing to constructively contribute to the project.
  5. Finally, it would be advantageous if the applicant is well connected in the fishing community.

SelectionAn assessment and ranking panel will be formed to consider nominations. The panel will comprise the Principal Investigator of the project, a representative from the relevant state fishery agencies, and an independent member from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

How to applyPlease submit an application outlining your relevant experience, how you meet the criteria and your reason for applying to eastcoastsnapper@frdc.com.au (maximum two pages). Applications close 31 January 2016. Depending on the level of interest we may follow up with a request for more information.

Contact Wayne Sumpton: eastcoastsnapper@frdc.com.au.  

Understanding the science of East Coast snapper stocks

Media release
Author(s):QLD Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Date Published:January 2016
A new two year snapper research project is underway to provide a solid scientific foundation for the future management of snapper along the east coast of Australia. A new two year snapper research project is underway to provide a solid scientific foundation for the future management of snapper along the east coast of Australia.
Project leader Dr Alex Campbell said the aim is to develop a unified approach to assessing snapper stock status along Australia’s east coast.
"Assessment of snapper stock in different jurisdictions has historically been conducted separately across states," Dr Campbell said.
"This project aims to ensure all relevant data sets and advice are channelled through a single multi-jurisdictional process.
"Fishery management may continue to be conducted separately in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, however the project aims to establish a set of protocols to provide consistency in how snapper are managed across states."
The project also includes a fishery genetics component to confirm the geographical extent of the stock and will consider genetic samples from nine locations (including gone west of Wilson’s Promontory and one from northern Tasmania).
Dr Campbell said the project is currently seeking expressions of interest for the project steering committee.
"It is important to have stakeholder representatives involved in the project and we are seeking committee members to play a role in interpreting the science and communicating with the wider fishing community," he said.
Individuals with knowledge or experience within the snapper fishery are encouraged to apply by submitting an application outlining their relevant experience and how they meet the criteria.  
Expressions of interest for the Steering Committee close 31 January 2016.
The Project to inform the inter-jurisdictional management of snapper on Australia’s east coast" is funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the state Governments of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
For more information on the project contact eastcoastsnapper@frdc.com.au or visit www.frdc.com.au
Media: Tanya Armstrong, 07 3087 8583

Review of existing snapper (Pagrus auratus) stock structure knowledge

Date Published:
Evidence suggesting the existence of separate stocks on the south and east coasts of Australia has come from growth rate studies and tagging experiments which have largely been confined to South Australian and Victorian waters.

MacDonald (1980) usedallozyme techniques to examine the stock structure of snapper throughout mostof the species’ Australian range. He concluded that there was evidence ofdifferent stocks, particularly for Shark Bay in Western Australia where allelicfrequencies differed significantly from those of other populations aroundAustralia. MacDonald’s (1980) work, while examining the Australian distributionof the species, examined a total of only 203 animals from three populationsfrom the east coast and recommended more intensive sampling at a finer spatialscale in order to detect population differences on the east coast.

Evidence suggesting theexistence of separate stocks on the south and east coasts of Australia has comefrom growth rate studies and tagging experiments (Sanders and Powell, 1979;Francis and Winstanley, 1989) which have largely been confined to SouthAustralian and Victorian waters.

Meggs et al. (2003) sampledsnapper from four sites in Victoria and single locations in South Australia,Western Australia and New Zealand. Although there were distinct geneticdifferences between the snapper populations from each of the Australian statesand New Zealand, only minor and largely insignificant differences were detectedamong Victorian populations.

On the east coast Sumpton etal. (2003) tagged snapper with dart and anchor tags in order to determinemovement and the contribution of juveniles inhabiting estuarine areas to theoffshore adult population. Most snapper movements were localised; only ~ 1% ofmovements exceeded 100km. Movements of snapper were mainly directed northwardagainst the prevailing direction of the East Australian Current (EAC).

Sumpton et al. (2008) foundan isolation by distance (IBD) signal along the eastern Australian coast with apossible barrier to gene flow around Sydney. IBD means fish are more likely tomate with fish from adjacent locations rather than at random across theirentire distribution. Given the earlier tagging study (Sumpton et al., 2003),this genetic pattern is likely to be driven by limited adult movement,localised mating and eddies in the EAC curtailing the extensive dispersal oflarvae along the eastern seaboard.

MacDonald (1980), Meggs etal. (2003) and Sumpton et al. (2008) all used allozymes as the genetic marker.Allozymes are less direct as genetic variation is inferred from differencesamong proteins. Microsatellites, like all DNA markers, assay genetic variationdirectly. Microsatellites are the marker being used in the current project.While this approach has not been used previously on the Australian east coast,it has been used on snapper successfully in other locations, and extensively onother species in Australia and worldwide.

In 2002, six microsatellitemarkers for P. auratus were developed and applied to investigatepopulation structure in New Zealand stocks of snapper (Bernal-Ramírez et al.,2002; Hauser et al., 2002). The nuclear markers were found to be more variablethan historically used allozyme techniques and mitochondrial DNA markers, andcontained sufficient variability to differentiate populations over relativelysmall spatial scales. Ashton (2013) compared neighbouring New Zealand stocksusing eight microsatellite markers. He determined that these stocks were largelypanmictic with only a small amount of genetic differentiation between the mostdistant sample sites (Ashton, 2013). Current research is underway in WesternAustralia using microsatellite markers to investigate

stock structures along theWest Coast as part of a PhD study (Gardner, 2014). Results are not yetavailable for this study.

In summary, clear evidencethat there are multiple genetic stocks of snapper on the east coast is lacking.There is some evidence of isolation by distance, and some evidence of a geneticdisjunction around Sydney. The technique being applied in the current FRDCproject has higher power to detect genetic variation than techniques used inprevious studies on the east coast, and should be able to provide a moredefinitive picture of stock structure.

Ashton D.T. 2013. Populationgenetics of New Zealand Pagrus auratus and genetic variation of anaquaculture broodstock. MSc Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington.

Bernal-Ramírez JH, Adcock GJ,Hauser L, Carvalho GR, Smith PJ 2002. Temporal stability of genetic populationstructure in the New Zealand snapper, Pagrus auratus, and relationshipto coastal currents. Marine Biology 142: 567-574.

Francis, R.I.C.C.,Winstanley, R., 1989. Differences in growth rates between habitats of south-eastAustralian snapper (Chrysophrys auratus). Aust. J. Mar. Fresh. Res. 40,703–710.

Gardner M. 2014. WAMSI Node4.4.2-2b - Genetic (microsatellite) determination of the stock structures ofPink snapper (Pagrus auratus) and Baldchin groper (Choerodonrubescens) in Western Australian waters. In: Australian Ocean Data Network.PhD project, Murdoch University.

Hauser L, Adcock GJ, SmithPJ, Bernal Ramírez JH, Carvalho GR 2002. Loss of microsatellite diversity andlow effective population size in an overexploited population of New Zealandsnapper (Pagrus auratus). Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences 99: 11742-11747.

MacDonald, M., 1980.Population structure, biochemical adaption and systematics in temperate marinefishes of the Genera Arripis and Chrysophrys. Ph.D., AustralianNational University, Canberra.

Meggs, L.B.,Austin, C.M.,Coutin, P.C., 2003. Low allozyme variation in snapper, Pagrus auratus,in Victoria, Australia. Fish. Man. Ecol. 10, 155–162.

Sanders, M.J., Powell,D.G.M., 1979. Comparison of the growth rates of two stocks of snapper (Chrysophrysauratus) in south-east Australian waters using capture–recapture data. N.Z. J. Mar. Fresh. Res. 13, 279–284.

Sumpton, W.D., Sawynok, B.and Carstens, N. 2003. Localised movement of snapper (Pagrus auratus,Sparidae) in a large subtropical marine embayment. Marine and FreshwaterResearch 54, 923-930.

Sumpton, W. D., Ovenden, J. R., Keenan,C. P., & Street, R. 2008. Evidence for a stock discontinuity of snapper (Pagrusauratus) on the east coast of Australia. Fisheries Research, 94(1), 92-98.

Summary of data available for the inter-jurisdictional snapper project

Date Published:
Summary of data available for the inter-jurisdictional snapper project. Abbreviations - Comm (Commercial), Rec (Recreational), Chart (Charter), BRUVS (Baited Remote Underwater Video Sampling) ANSA (Australian National Sportfishing Association), FIS (Fishery Independent surveys) “+” after years signifies ongoing program of data collection with no set end date.

Summary of dataavailable for the inter-jurisdictional snapper project. Abbreviations - Comm(Commercial), Rec (Recreational), Chart (Charter), BRUVS (Baited RemoteUnderwater Video Sampling) ANSA (Australian National Sportfishing Association),FIS (Fishery Independent surveys) “+” after years signifies ongoing program ofdata collection with no set end date.








Qld Comm and Chart (1988+) Daily

Qld Comm and Chart (1988+) Daily

Comm line fishery dependent samples (1993 to 1996, 2006+)

Comm line fishery dependent samples (1993 to 1996, 2006+)

Qld Comprehensive Growth, Spawning, Maturity, Fecundity data (Fine spatial resolution possible)

Qld beam trawl structured fishery independent sampling Nov and Dec (2006+)

NSW Comm, and Chart (1952+) Monthly earlier on - Daily from 1998

NSW Comm, and Chart (1984+) Monthly earlier on - Daily from 1998

Qld Rec and Chart (2006+)

Qld Rec and Chart (2006+)

NSW Comprehensive Growth, Spawning, Maturity, Fecundity data (Fine spatial resolution possible)

Qld, NSW & Vic ANSA Tagging data (Growth and movement data (1970’s+)

Vic Comm and Chart (1978+) Limited for eastern stock

Vic Comm and Chart (1978+) Limited for eastern stock

NSW trap and line fishery 1994+ (some missing years)

NSW trap and line fishery 1994+ (some missing years)

Vic No biological data available for eastern stock but considerable biological data available for western stock

Vic Research tagging data 1970’s

Qld, NSW & Vic Statewide Rec estimates for all three jurisdictions (1990’s+) 6 x Queensland, 2 x NSW and 2 x Vic

Qld, NSW & Vic statewide Rec estimates possible to derive for all three jurisdictions (1990’s+)

NSW Charter (2000+)

NSW No recreational age data. Can be inferred from length data?


Qld & NSW BRUVS data (limited spatial and temporal coverage)

Qld Fish Board catches (1938 to 1980)

Limited effort data for South east trawl fishery due to non-target species status of snapper

NSW Rec 2 time periods (1993 to 1995 and 2001 to 2003)

Vic Limited sporadic Comm age data during 1990’s


Qld, NSW Research FIS surveys using traps and beam trawl (Very limited spatial and temporal coverage

Vic South East trawl catches from Commonwealth Danish seine fishery

Qld, NSW & Vic Recreational Motor vessel registrations for (1984+). Varying quality

Vic Limited sporadic Comm length data during 1990’s



Qld, NSW and Vic. Historic catches from Newspapers and other historic documents 1880 to 1950’s (Ruth Thurston)

Qld, NSW & Vic Personal logs of fishers (1950’s+)

Qld, NSW and Vic Aerial surveillance estimates of fishing effort. Point estimates available for few select years.

Qld Fisheries Observer data (2004 to 2012)



Qld data on adoption of fishing technology (Used for standardizing catch). Comm and Rec only


Qld, NSW & VicRecreational Fishing Club data

(early 1900’s+)



1. Apply the latest cost-effective microsatellite genetic techniques to clarify and refine understanding of snapper stock structure along Australia’s east coast.

2. Assemble and harmonise all available data sets and information sources, including archival and fisher knowledge data, and develop a mechanism for stakeholder feedback on this resource.

3. Develop computer models for the east-coast snapper population that inform on inter-jurisdictional management strategies.

4. Develop protocols for inter-jurisdictional decision-making processes and stakeholder engagement.