Red snapper is a catch-all term that is commonly used to describe a number of key fish species, including saddletail snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus), crimson snapper (L. erythropterus), red emperor (L. sebae) and goldband snapper (Pristipomoides multidens). Each of these species play a crucial role in commercial, artisanal and recreational fisheries within the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region. To ensure the sustainability of these four species, the ATS red snapper Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) Plan was developed throughout 2020 and 2021. 

Among the four littoral nations of the ATS region, only red snapper from Fisheries Management Area (FMA) 718 – in Indonesian waters – are considered to be at high or medium risk of overfishing (Knuckey et al., 2021). In 2018, FMA 718 constituted the primary contributor to snapper production in Indonesia, contributing 25.41% of the annual output, as outlined in the Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministerial Decree No. 123 Year 2021 on Snapper and Grouper Fisheries Management. Demersal fish, encompassing snapper and grouper, exhibit the highest stock biomass compared to the other eight fish groups, namely small pelagic, big pelagic, reef fish, penaeid shrimp, lobster, crab, small crab, and squid, as specified in the Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministerial Decree No. 19 Year 2022 on Estimate of Fish Resource Potential, Total Allowable Catch, and Fish Resource Utilisation in Fisheries Management Areas of the Republic of Indonesia.

As part of the ATSEA-2 project’s updated baseline data, a comprehensive assessment of the top 20 species from Indonesian deepwater demersal fishery in 2019 reveals that the four red snapper species from FMA 718 constitute 2.53% of the global catch (Mous et al., 2020).

The dynamic duo – Andik (in blue t-shirt) and Yanto (in orange t-shirt) dedicated ATSEA-2 Enumerators from Probolinggo

To gauge the current stock status, the ATSEA-2 Project collects and analyses a range of primary and secondary data. The former entails supporting the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) in fisheries enumeration and biological sampling of red snapper, particularly in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia; the latter is derived from fishery baseline assessments, reports and data generated by various countries and studies.

Since February 2021, Mihariyadi “Andik” Sulamono from the Mayangan Fishery Port Management Unit and Hariyanto (or “Yanto”) from the Food Security, Agriculture and Fisheries Agency of Probolinggo City have led data collection using digital monitoring apps called Kobo Toolbox. This dynamic duo collected landing data, identified species groups, measured fish lengths and conducted biological sampling, including measurements of length, weight and gonad maturity for the four red snapper species. To date, in terms of biological sampling, the duo has sampled 148 saddletail snapper, 96 crimson snapper, 93 red emperor and 92 goldband snapper. As the data collection concludes this December after almost three years, the initial results are promising. The biological sampling efforts have shown positive signs for the saddletail snapper in particular. Initially assessed as high risk, the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) value for this species has improved from 2% to 17% in the last five years.

Andik cuts the sample open, measures its total length and weight, and takes out the gonad

The SPR is a metric used to assess the reproductive potential of a fish stock. It helps fisheries managers determine whether or not certain stocks are being utilised sustainably. A high SPR suggests that the fish stock is producing close to its maximum reproductive potential, indicating sustainable fishing levels; conversely, a low SPR may indicate overfishing, whereby the spawning stock is depleted, potentially leading to long-term negative impacts on the population.

Based on SPR values, fish stocks are categorised as overexploited when the SPR is below 20%, moderately exploited when SPR falls between 20% and 40%, and underexploited when SPR exceeds 40%. While sustainability thresholds have not yet been met, these improvements underscore the positive impact of the ATSEA-2 Project. At the national level, ATSEA-2 contributes to supporting the updating of the Fisheries Management Plan for FMA 718 and EAFM plan for red snapper fisheries in the Aru Archipelago. The project has also facilitated capacity building for meeting Marine Stewardship Council certification for fisheries business owners and handling endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species bycatch.

The ATSEA-2 Project’s efforts in monitoring and managing red snapper species align with the global initiative for sustainable fishing practices. As the assessment will be concluded soon, this preliminary result provides hope for the sustainable use of red snapper in the ATS region.

By Casandra Tania