Pagrus auratus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Pagrus auratus
Species Authority: (Forster, 1801)
Common Name(s):
English Snapper, Porgy, Cockney Bream, Cockney Snapper, Golden Snapper, Old Man Snapper, Pink Snapper, Cockney, Red Bream, Red Pargo, Sea Bream, Bream, Squire, Squirefish
Chrysophrys guttulatus (Valenciennes, 1830)
Chrysophrys major (Temminck & Schlegel, 1843)
Chrysophrys unicolor Quoy & Gaimard, 1824
Labrus auratus Forster, 1801
Pagrosomus auratus (Forster, 1801)
Pagrosomus major (Temminck & Schlegel, 1843)
Pagrus arthurius Jordan & Starks, 1906
Pagrus chinensis Steindachner, 1870
Pagrus guttulatus Valenciennes, 1830
Pagrus latus Richardson & Solander, 1842
Pagrus micropterus Valenciennes, 1830
Pagrus ruber Döderlein, 1883
Pagrus unicolor (Quoy & Gaimard, 1824)
Sciaena lata Solander, 1842
Sparosomus unicolor (Quoy & Gaimard, 1824)
Sparus auratus ( Linnaeus, 1758)
Taxonomic Notes: Both the specific and generic status of this species is under review and likely to change (K. Carpenter pers. comm. 2009).

The phylogeny of sparids, and the taxonomy of snapper in particular, has attracted considerable attention. In Australasia, snapper had previously been assigned to the genus Chrysophrys, formerly as Chrysophrys unicolor and more latterly as C. auratus (Paulin 1990). Paulin (1990) determined Pagrus to be the senior synonym of Chrysophrys, and re-described C. auratus as Pagrus auratus. In addition, he concluded that the species known as red sea bream in Japan, i.e. Pagrus major, was a conspecific and should also be re-described as P. auratus. Researchers in Japan, however, have not adopted this taxonomy (Jackson 2007).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2009-12-04
Assessor(s): Carpenter, K.E., Buxton, C.D., Russell, B. & Pollard, D.
Reviewer(s): Comeros-Raynal, M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Gorman, C.
Pagrus auratus occurs from New Zealand and Australia to 300 m depth. This species is very important in commercial and recreational fisheries throughout most of its range. Pagrus auratus has undergone major declines in the past and should continue to be monitored carefully; however, this species is abundant in parts of its range and there are a number of management regulations in place. It is therefore listed as Least Concern.
2010 Data Deficient

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Pagrus auratus is distributed in the Indo-West Pacific from New Zealand and Australia (Paulin 1990, Hayes 1994, Curley et al. 2013). This species occurs to 300 m depth (Kailola et al. 1993).
Australia; New Zealand
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – western central
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The commercial and recreational fisheries for Pagrus auratus in Australia comprise a national total catch of c. 3,000 tonnes per year including Queensland (c. 700 tonnes), New South Wales (c. 500 tonnes), Victoria (c. 500 tonnes), South Australia (c. 900 tonnes), and Western Australia (c. 600 tonnes) (Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2012). The total national catch for New Zealand is c. 14,000 tonnes per year (N.Z. Ministry for Primary Industries 2012).

In the West Coast Bioregion (WCB) of Australia there is a single genetic stock of Pagrus auratus with genetic isolation by distance (Gardner 2011). In Shark Bay, there are three separate stocks within the two gulfs and they are distinct from the stock in adjacent oceanic waters (Johnson et al. 1986, Edmonds et al. 1989, Moran et al. 1998, Edmonds et al. 1999, Bastow et al. 2002, Moran et al. 2003). Shark Bay in Western Australia is one of the most important locations for fishing of this species, and this fishery began in the early 1900s moving to the inner gulfs by the 1920s (Cooper 1997, Edwards 2000) with effort increasing until the 1950s and subsequently declining steadily in the 1960s and 1970s (Bowen 1961, Marriott et al. 2011). The catch of P. auratus in South Australia has notably increased and this species has become the highest State-based contributor to the national commercial catch reaching 972 tonnes worth $6.5 million in 2010–2011 (Fowler et al. 2012). Commercial catches of this species in the inner gulfs of Shark Bay contribute around less than two tonnes per year (Cooper 1997). However, the commercial oceanic fishery in this area previously produced the largest catch of P. auratus in Australia reaching about 600 tonnes per year (Marriott et al. 2011). Approximately 190 tonnes of this species was taken in the WCB, 263 tonnes in the Gasoyne Coast Bioregion (GCB) (Fairclough et al. 2012, Jackson et al. 2012b) and 40 tonnes in the South Coast Bioregion in 2010/2011 (Molony et al. 2012). Recreational catches in this area were believed to be unsustainable by the mid 1990s and by 1995 the Denham Recreational Advisory Committee proposed a number of management regulations to limit recreational catches (Jackson and Moran 2012). The total estimated recreational boat-based catch in the WCB increased from 25 tonnes in 1996/1997 to 40 tonnes in 2005/2006 (Sumner et al. 2008) and subsequently decreased to 24 tonnes in 2009/2010 following the introduction of a variety of management measures during 2007-2009 (Fairclough et al. 2010). The total estimated recreational boat-based catch in the GCB was 30 tonnes in 2007/2008 and catch taken by charter vessels was 12 tonnes in 2010/2011 (Jackson et al. 2012b). Recruitment had reached very low levels in the late 1990s, indicating that the stock was seriously depleted (Jackson and Moran 2012). After the implementation of a moratorium and subsequent Total Allowable Catch (TAC), daily bag limits, and minimum landing size; most of the stock recovered to c. 40% of the unexploited biomass by 2011 but this recovery has been extremely slow and the reasons for this are unknown (Jackson and Moran 2012).

In the WCB, the estimates of F for the entire stock (2008/09–2010/11) declined from the assessment period 2005/06–2007/08 but it was about 1.5 times the limit reference point of 0.18 year-1. In the combined northern management areas of Kallbarri and Mid-west of the WCB, F decreased and SPR (spawning per recruit) increased. Although F and SPR both improved between the two assessment periods, F was still extremely high and SPR very low. In the combined southern management areas of Metropolitan and South-west, F and SPR also improved and were much low and higher, respectively, than for the combined northern areas (Fairclough et al. 2014).

New Zealand

This species is widely distributed in New Zealand waters but is most abundant in the Hauraki Gulf. In New Zealand, catches peaked in 1978 at 18,000 tonnes but had declined to 8,500 tonnes to 9,000 tonnes by the mid 1980s with some stocks showing signs of overexploitation (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). The spawning stock biomass (SSB) of this species in New Zealand has decreased significantly since the 1970s in the east Northland, Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty. The SSBs from 2011 in all three areas were estimated to be below 20% with that in the Bay of Plenty estimated at below 10%. Model SSB trajectories for P. auratus for all three stocks after 2007 are either decreasing or have plateaued. Modeled five year projections indicate that current catch rates will not permit stock recovery in the eastern Northland or the Hauraki Gulf and will most likely decrease P. auratus abundance in the Bay of Plenty (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012).

Recent data suggest that P. auratus is increasing in abundance and has expanded its range in eastern Tasmania since the 1800s (Last et al. 2011). Populations of this species seem to be 'closed' over relatively small spatial scales and connectivity is relatively low (Curley et al. 2013).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Pagrus auratus is a highly resident, demersal species that occupies a wide variety of habitats including rocky reefs, and sand and mud bottoms to 200 m depth, but most commonly occurs between 15 m to 60 m depth (Parsons et al. 2011, N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). Adults of this species aggregate over rocky reefs while juveniles are abundant in estuaries, and also around shallow coastal rocky reefs and over sand substrates near reefs (Henry and Gillanders 1999, Ross et al. 2007). This species prefers patchy habitats with high complexity such as horse mussel beds, Corallina turf, sponges, sea squirts, pits and burrows (Kingett and Choat 1981, Morrison et al. 2008). This species is an important predator in shallow reef communities of northeastern New Zealand and has been shown to play a significant role in the re-establishment of community level trophic cascades after the implementation of marine reserves (Shears and Babcock 2002). Growth of P. auratus is relatively slow, with fish reaching about 11 to 14 cm (FL) after one year, 16 to 20 cm (FL) after two years, and 23 to 34 cm (FL) after four years (Longhurst 1958, Paul 1976, Horn 1986, McKenzie et al. 1992, Walsh et al. 2006). Growth rates have been shown to differ between populations of P. auratus on the eastern and western coasts of the North Island of New Zealand, with fish from the western coast growing faster than fish from the eastern coast (Longhurst 1958). Pagrus auratus has been recorded to 54 years of age (Kalish 1993) but may live to 60 years or more (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). The maximum recorded length for this species is 130 cm (TL) (Randall et al. 1990). 

Some individuals of this species exhibit high residency while other follow seasonal migrations (Parsons et al. 2011). In Western Australia, inshore-offshore spawning migration takes place in the shelf waters off the west coast (Moran et al. 2003, Wakefield 2006, Wise et al. 2007, Wakefield et al. 2011) and distances travelled increase with fish size (Wakefield et al. 2011). Movement if very limited inside of Shark Bay (Moran and Kangas 2003, Norriss et al. 2012) and in Queensland (Moran and Kangas 2003, Sumpton et al. 2003) but up to 2,000 km in southern and eastern Australia (Sanders 1974, Fowler et al. 2005).


Pagrus auratus is a rudimentary hermaphrodite (functional gonochorist) (Francis and Pankhurst 1988, Buxton and Garratt 1990, Sadovy de Mitcheson and Liu 2008) and attains maturity between 20 and 28 cm (FL), at about three to four years of age (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). Pagrus auratus adults often aggregate outside harbours, bays and estuaries to spawn (Crossland 1977, Scott et al. 1993, Jackson 2007) usually from November to December. The spawning season may take place from January to March in some areas (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). Winter spawning grounds are thought to be in deeper waters (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). Spawning aggregations of P. auratus are known to occur outside the Kaipara and Manukau Harbours on the western coast of the North Island of New Zealand (Smith et al. 1978), and throughout much of the Hauraki Gulf on the eastern coast of the North Island (Zeldis and Francis 1998). In Western Australia, in Cockburn Sound, spawning takes place at night during the three hours after high tide and peaks around the new and full moons (Wakefield 2010). In Shark Bay, spawning occurs from early afternoon to late evening (Jackson and Cheng 2001). Larvae hatch at a relatively small size from 2.1 mm (SL) (Pankhurst et al. 1991), and spend 18 to 32 days in the plankton (Francis 1994, Fowler and Jennings 2003), before settling into the shallow waters of estuaries and bays at lengths of nine to 14 mm SL (Miskiewicz 1986, Trnski 2002, Hamer and Jenkins 2004). Pagrus auratus is a serial spawner that releases many batches of eggs throughout spring and summer. The young of this species will form schools in shallow, sheltered waters and move to deeper water in the winter, dispersing more widely with age (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). Water temperature plays a major role in the success of recruitment, and strong year classes in the population generally correspond to warm years and weak classes to cold years (Francis 1993). Fecundity of an average sized female (45 cm (FL)) is estimated at c. 3.5 million eggs (Ferrell and Sumpton 1997). 

Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Pagrus auratus is a very important commercial and recreational species in New Zealand. In New Zealand this species is the basis of one of the largest and most valuable coastal fisheries in the country. The commercial fishery in New Zealand developed in the last century and expanded in the 1970s with increased catches by trawl and Danish seine. Pair trawling accounted for 75% on average of the annual catch of P. auratus in northwest New Zealand from 1976 to 1989. In northern New Zealand, an increasing amount of the catches were taken by long-line with the development of the Japanese "iki jime" market. Pagrus auratus is also caught as bycatch in some fisheries (N.Z. Ministry for Primary Industries 2012). This species is also one of the most valuable commercial and recreational species in eastern Australia (Hughes et al. 2008).

In Western Australia, this species is also a major component of the recreational and commercial fisheries. It is a highly sought after recreational species and is targeted primarily by boat-based fishers in the West Coast and Gascoyne Coast bioregions, especiallyShark Bay (Telfer 2010, Fairclough et al. 2012, Wise et al. 2012). Pagrus auratus has a very long history of exploitation in Western Australia, especially in Shark Bay (Marrriott et al. 2012). This species is one of the key demersal target species in the West Coast Demersal Scalefish (Interim) Managed Fishery (Fairclough et al. 2012), the Gascoyne Demersal Scalefish Managed Fishery (Jackson et al. 2012b) and is also taken in the temperate Demrsal Gillnet and Demersal Longline Fishery (Fairclough et al. 2012).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Pagrus auratus forms spawning aggregations and is subject to targeted fishing pressure in Australia and New Zealand at aggregation sites (Wakefield 2010, Jackson et al. 2012, N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012). This species has been subject to overexploitation in many parts of its range, although there is some evidence of recovery in some areas (Jackson et al. 2012, N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The Denham Recreational Advisory Committee proposed a number of management regulations in 1995 to limit recreational catches, including an overall possession limit and a species specific daily bag limit during the spawning season of P. auratus (Jackson and Moran 2012). In March 1996, the State Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee also recommended a range of management measures to protect P. auratus; these regulations included an increase in minimum size from 41 cm to 45 cm (TL), the introduction of a maximum size limit of only two fish greater than 70 cm (TL) per day per person, and a daily bag limit of four fish per person. However, these measures were not popular with large numbers of recreational fishers and were not supported by the Minister of the day, who requested further research to more adequately establish the status of P. auratus stocks (Marshall and Moore 2000). A moratorium on fishing of P. auratus in the Eastern Gulf of Shark Bay was implemented in May 1997 but was overturned in July 1997 due to public opposition (Marshall and Moore 2000). Although the Eastern Gulf fishery for this species was reopened, additional restrictions were implemented, including a slot limit of 50 cm to 70 cm (TL), a daily bag limit of two fish, and the main spawning ground being closed to all fishing. After the daily egg production method (DEPM) (Zeldis 1993) successfully assessed the stocks  of P. auratus in Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand in 1992 (Zeldis and Francis 1998), and in northern Spencer Gulf, South Australia in 1994–1995 (McGlennon 2003), DEPM surveys were undertaken in Shark Bay from May to September 1997. The results of the surveys from the Eastern Gulf warranted the closing of the fishery in June 1998 and this fishery remained under moratorium until March 2003. By 2001, most of the stock had recovered to c. 40% of its unexploited biomass, but the Freycinet Estuary stock remained below 30% of the unexploited biomass, making an unexpectedly slow recovery. It was recommended that the daily bag limit for P. auratus in the Eastern Gulf and Denham Sound could be increased to two fish to permit recreational fishers to catch more while remaining within the overall TACs (Jackson and Moran 2012). The Quota Management System (QMS) was introduced in 1986 and Total Allowable Commercial Catches (TACCs) for all stocks of P. auratus in New Zealand were established to allow for some stock recovery (N.Z. Ministry of Primary Industries 2012).

Currently, in Shark Bay, recreational fishing regulations include a daily bag limit of two fish per person per day, a minimum landing size of 50 cm and a maximum size of 70 cm, a closed fishing season from 1 May to 31 July in the Eastern Gulf and 15 August to 30 September in the Freycinet Estuary (Department of  Fisheries 2013).

Citation: Carpenter, K.E., Buxton, C.D., Russell, B. & Pollard, D. 2014. Pagrus auratus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 26 November 2014.
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