Fine-scale variability in catch and growth rates of western rock lobsters (Panulirus cygnus) show heterogeneous life-history parameters

Ash Miller, Simon de Lestang, Jason How, Brooke Gibbons, Emily Lester, Matthew Navarro, Joanna Fitzhardinge, Michael Brooker, Tim Langlois

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context. The western rock lobster fishery is recognised to be conservatively managed, with breeding stock levels estimated to be at record levels over the past decade. Despite this, anecdotal reports from commercial fishers identified an area of unexpectedly low catches in the centre of the fishery and lobsters’ biogeographic distribution. Aim. To confirm the presence of this suspected ‘low-catch’ zone and examine the variability in catch and growth rates of lobsters if identified. Methods. This study conducted an intensive mark–recapture survey over 8 months to explore catch rate, density, movement and growth rates across this ‘low-catch’ zone and three comparable locations. Key results. In total, 9318 lobsters were caught and 7565 individuals were tagged during the study. Consistently low catch rates of under-sized lobsters were observed in the ‘low-catch’ zone, with catch rates increasing with distance from the zone. By contrast, similar catch rates of legal-sized lobsters were observed across all locations. Conclusions. The study confirmed low catch rates, for under-sized lobsters, within an area of perceived low catch rates within the centre of the fishery. The lack of difference found in legal-sized catch rates among locations is likely to be due to the low fishing pressure in the ‘low-catch’ zone, resulting from hyperstability of fishers adapting to the historical perceived low catch rate. Modelled data demonstrated the ‘low-catch’ zone to be associated with faster growth rates and high fine-scale migration, indicating a potential release from density-dependent processes. Implications. We anticipate that these results will be a useful starting point for future research into the mechanisms responsible for the unexpectedly low catch of sublegal lobsters within the ‘low-catch’ zone and the implications it may have on the wider population, both regionally and across the species distribution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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