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Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

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Climate-coastal sheries relationships and their spatial variation in Queensland,

Jan-Olaf Meynecke , Shing Yip Lee
Australian Rivers Institute Coast and Estuaries and School of Environment, Grifth University, Gold Coast Campus, Queensland 4222, Australia

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 29 September 2010
Received in revised form 28 April 2011
Accepted 5 May 2011
Coastal sheries
Geographic variability

a b s t r a c t
The notion that climate change may impact coastal sh production suggests a need to understand how
climate variables may inuence sh catch on a broad scale. The natural variability of freshwater ows, as a
result of variable rainfall, has been shown to affect catch, as low levels reduce nutrient input, physical cues
for reproduction, and access to nursery habitats. We used sh catch data, coastal sea surface temperature
(SST), rainfall and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) from 1988 to 2004 for eight distinct climatic
regions along the coast of Queensland, Australia, to investigate the relationships between catch and
climate parameters and variation between regions. Sea surface temperatures and rainfall were positively
correlated with the catch of seven coastal commercial sheries species but the relationship varied strongly
between species and regions, thus indicating possible differences between sheries stocks in responding
to future changes in temperature and rainfall. A forward stepwise regression model that included a
measure of rainfall, SST and SOI explained between 30% and 70% of the variance in catch adjusted for
effort for the same year for barramundi (Lates calcarifer), mud crabs (Scylla serrata), mullet (e.g. Mugil
cephalus), athead (e.g. Platycephalus fuscus), whiting (Sillago spp.), tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon, P.
semisulcatus) and endeavour prawns (Metapenaeus endeavouri, M. ensis). Given that the inuence of these
climate parameters varies with geographic regions, future catch prediction models should incorporate
geographic variation of the relationship between sh catch and climate.
2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Attempts have been made to link sh catch with oceanographic
and climatic variability (Andrade and Garcia, 1999; Zeeberg et al.,
2008). Temperature and freshwater ow have been reported to
play a major role in the life cycles of many coastal sh species on
the east coast of Australia (Blaber and Blaber, 1980; Gillson et al.,
2009). In general, warm water temperature can be seen as a proxy
for productivity, increasing the primary production (Liston et al.,
1992) and metabolic activity in sh by up to 10% for every 1 C rise
in temperature. The increase of metabolic activity is species specic and species that can tolerate or prefer higher temperatures
are likely to benet from warming (Poertner et al., 2001), whereas
species that have narrow temperature tolerance limits, e.g. some
prawn (Penaeidae) and sh species (Beaugrand et al., 2003; Harley
et al., 2006) will be negatively affected. Studies in African estuaries
demonstrated temperature effects on temperate sh assemblages
(Whiteld, 2005) but these are less distinct in tropical and subtropical regions.

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (J.-O. Meynecke).
0165-7836/$ see front matter 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Proposed mechanisms for the connection between estuarineassociated shery catch, temperature and rainfall include: (1)
trophic linkages changes to primary or secondary production;
(2) changes in distribution as a consequence of altered preferred
water temperature and salinity and with it, changes of catchability
(Loneragan and Bunn, 1999); and (3) changes in population dynamics such as recruitment, growth, survival, abundance, assemblages
and migration behaviour as well as cohort or year-class strength

and Montes, 2001).

during the rst year of life (Quinones
Increased freshwater ow enhances connectivity to the estuary
and increases the available catch in commercial sheries. Additionally, freshwater ow contributes to wetland nursery habitat area
(Balston, 2009a). Increased freshwater ow can improve sh catch
by enhancing survival of early life cycle stages. Freshwater ow also
provides nutrient input from the catchments and enhances estuarine productivity, particularly when in combination with warm
water temperatures. Therefore, coastal shery productivity should
increase during years and seasons with high rainfall and warm temperatures. In contrast, cold and dry periods should be related to
lower catch rates. However, such climatic effects on shery production and catch are often delayed as a result of the time required
for climate-driven recruitment, growth and survival to affect catchable stock. A similar relationship is expected for coastal sh species
that rely on certain temperature and salinity gradients.


J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

Table 1
Selected coastal regions in Queensland and their characteristics for the time period 19882004. NP, North Peninsula; SP, South Peninsula; LC, Lower Carpentaria; HNC,
Herbert North Coast; ECC, East Central Coast; PSC, Port Curtis South Coast; MSC, Moreton South Coast, BNC, Barron North Coast.

degrees S



Total area
(km2 )

Total river
length (km)

Mean annual
SST ( C)

Mean max.
SST ( C)

Mean annual
rainfall (mm)

Mean rainfall wet

season (mm)



Gulf Plains
Cape York Peninsula
Cape York Peninsula
Wet Tropics
Wet Tropics
South-East Queensland
South-East Queensland

10 426
26 520
10 122
58 102

248 884
85 014

17 729





Previous studies showed that rainfall and associated freshwater runoff inuence the catch of coastal sh species such as mullet
(e.g. Mugil cephalus), prawn species (e.g., Penaeus esculentus, P. plejebus) (Meynecke et al., 2006; Vance et al., 1998), barramundi (Lates
calcarifer) (Balston, 2009b) and dusky athead (Platycephalus fuscus) (Gillson et al., 2009). Studies in Australia were concentrated on
local regions like the Gulf of Carpentaria (Vance et al., 1998), southeast Queensland (Loneragan and Bunn, 1999), central Queensland
(Staunton-Smith et al., 2004) or central New South Wales (Growns
and James, 2005). Investigations on a larger geographic scale were
only undertaken for single species like barramundi (Balston, 2009a)
or for single environmental variables like rainfall (Meynecke et al.,
2006). Quantication of the inuence of multiple climatic indices
on a range of coastal sheries species in the form of regional comparisons along precipitation and temperature gradients has not
been undertaken to date. Beside the large geographic differences
in temperature, catch and biology of coastal sheries species in
Queensland it is possible to develop climatic indices capable of
improving sheries management. Given the expected disturbances
in rainfall and temperature patterns resulting from climate change,
better understanding of climate effects on sh catch is timely.
Here we analysed relationships between key climate variables
and sheries catch rates from eight coastal regions in Queensland,
eastern Australia. The objective was to determine the inuence
of climate variables on sheries landings using effort-adjusted
data from individual sheries. We (1) examined relationships
between climate variability measured by rainfall, nearshore sea
surface temperature (SST) and Southern Oscillation Index (SOI)
values and the Queensland commercial sheries catch rates
from 1988 to 2004; (2) investigated climate variables that were
signicantly related to sheries catch rates; and (3) investigated if
the relationships vary along temperature and rainfall gradients by
cross-regional comparisons.

the Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries Assessment and

Monitoring Unit (Department of Employment, Development &
Innovation) (Fig. 1). Effort was calculated for the individual sheries
(line, trawl, net and pot) and the dominant sheries for each species
were used for further analyses to infer an index of abundance. The
sh catch data were recorded in 30 nautical mile grids. The catch
ranged from 26 to 60 kg/day and between 1 and 260 kg/day per
sh catch grid within the eight different regions (Fig. 1). Catch
was adjusted for effort using residuals from the regression of logtransformed catch and effort, and the catch adjusted for effort (CAE)
was calculated for each year and season to ensure there was no
signal from effort in the catch data (Balston, 2009b).

2. Materials and methods

2.1. Study area
The Queensland coastline offers a wide range of mean monthly
and annual temperatures with annual average water temperatures
between 23 and 31 C for north Queensland and between 19 and
27 C for southeast Queensland. Between 80% and 90% of annual
coastal rainfall occurs in the wet season (OctoberApril) and annual
average rainfall ranges from 700 mm in the Gulf Plains Bioregion to
1500 mm in the Wet Tropics Bioregion (Table 1, Figs. 1 and 2). Eight
coastal regions were selected to evaluate the inuence of climate
variables on sheries catch rates in accordance with the Bureau of
Meteorology rainfall districts (BOM, 2004).
2.2. Fisheries data
Data on catch and effort (number of shing days) for coastal
species or species groups from 1988 to 2004 were provided by

Fig. 1. Location of study sites showing eight coastal regions along the 7000 km coastline of Queensland and the spatial distribution of catch in kg/day during 19882004
for seven coastal sheries species per region as well as the catch in kg/day recorded
in 30 nautical mile grids (spatial resolution of recorded catch data).

J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376


Fig. 2. Time series plots of monthly key environmental data (average rainfall, sea surface temperature and SOI) for eight coastal regions in Queensland, Australia. NP, North
Peninsula; SP, South Peninsula; LC, Lower Carpentaria; HNC, Herbert North Coast; ECC, East Central Coast; PSC, Port Curtis South Coast; MSC, Moreton South Coast, BNC,
Barron North Coast.

We used coastal catch data from selected sheries species

groups (Table 2) to assess regional differences in the relationship between climate variables and sheries catch rates. Species
were selected based on (1) relatively constant and high market value; (2) estuary association; and (3) common occurrence

throughout Queensland coastal waters (Yearsley et al., 1999). The

following species were selected: barramundi (Lates calcarifer), mud
crab (Scylla serrata), dusky athead (Platycephalus fuscus), mullet
(Liza vaigiensis, L. subviridis, L. argentea, Valamugil georgii, V. seheli,
Mugil cephalus, Trachystoma petardi, Mugilidae), endeavour prawns


J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

Table 2
Major coastal sh species or species groups selected for analysing the relationship
between catch data and climate parameters. Criteria for species selection were that
the species should/are (1) have relative constant and high market value; (2) estuaryassociated; and (3) common throughout Queensland (Yearsley et al., 1999).
Common name and
sh catch class

Dominant taxa

Mud Crab
Dusky Flathead

Lates calcarifer
Scylla serrata
Platycephalus fuscus
Liza vaigiensis, L. subviridis, L. argentea, Valamugil
georgii, Valamugil seheli, Mugil cephalus, Trachystoma
petardi, Mugilidae
Metapenaeus endeavouri, M. ensis
Penaeus monodon, P. semisulcatus
Sillago ciliata, S. analis, S. maculata, S. burrus, S.
ingenuua, S. sihama, S. robusta, Sillaginidae spp.

Endeavour Prawns
Tiger Prawns

(Metapenaeus endeavouri, M. ensis), tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon,

P. semisulcatus) and whiting (Sillago ciliata, S. analis, S. maculata, S.
burrus, S. ingenuua, S. sihama, S. robusta, Sillaginidae spp.).
2.3. Climatic data
Monthly mean and maximum sea surface temperature
(SST) data points with a 4-km resolution (obtained from PRODUCT/SST, NASA JPL Physical
Oceanography) for the time period 19882004 were selected for a
50-km buffer zone along the coastline of Queensland using ArcGIS
9.3. Monthly patterns are likely to vary signicantly between air
and water temperatures, with SST better reecting monthly variations in coastal waters (Eugene et al., 1982) than air temperature.
We have analysed coastal weather stations for consistency and
air temperatures for the time period 19882004 and have found
the variation between regions, in particular, between the remote
north and urbanised south of Queensland was too high for meaningful analyses. Monthly Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values
and mean and maximum rainfall data for the eight coastal regions
were obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). Positive val pattern in the
ues of the SOI are generally associated with a La Nina
central and eastern equatorial Pacic and above average rainfall
for northeast Queensland. Negative values of the SOI are associated
conditions and below average rainfall across northeast
with El Nino
Australia. To align with the climatic patterns of coastal Queensland,
seasonal variables were calculated for the wet (OctoberApril) and
the dry seasons (MaySeptember).
2.4. Data analyses
Exploratory analyses were performed using Pearson correlations for seasonal conguration of the data set for SST and rainfall
data only. The correlation analyses were concentrated on the wet
season where catch rates (except for mullet) and warm temperatures as well as rainfall are highest. Results were visualised using
ArcGIS 9.3 to analyse the spatial distribution of the relationships.
Further analyses of sh catch dependence on climatic variables
were undertaken with linear regression techniques and corrected
with Bonferroni inequality adjustment (Sokal and Rohlf, 1995) in
SPSS 17.0, using annual data with lags of up to two years. The general equation used to predict CAE from environmental variables
Ct = f (xt ) =


i xi,t + et


where Ct is the CAE at time t, xi,t the covariates representing climate

variables (SOI, rainfall, temperature), t the unit of time (year or

season), n the number of covariates, i the coefcient for covariate

i and et is the residual term for observation t. We tested a total of
21 relationships for each species and region.
Non-metric multidimensional scaling (nMDS) was used to visually represent the similarity of the coastal regions on the basis
of temperature, rainfall and catch in kg/day. Data was standardised by sample and resemblance measure was Euclidean distance.
We tested annual and seasonal CAE data against seven variables,
namely SST max, rainfall max, rainfall, rainfall wet season, SOI,
SOI NovApr, SOI MayOct. The collinearity between variables (e.g.
SST and rainfall) and/or autocorrelation within a single variable
(e.g. wet season rainfall correlated with dry season rainfall) was
tested using a correlation matrix. The correlation between SST values and rainfall were expected to be signicant. However, we have
not removed the autocorrelation as this can increase the risk of a
Type II error, or bias results if the source of autocorrelation is due to
covariance (Pyper and Peterman, 1998; Robins et al., 2005). The link
between rainfall and SST is also biologically meaningful and should
not be removed for the purpose of these analyses. To reduce the
risk of spurious relationships that did not have a likely causal link
to coastal sh production, comparisons with results from previous
studies of the same species were undertaken. One and two-year
time lags that were biological meaningful were included in the
3. Results
3.1. Spatial variation of catch and climate
The total catch for all seven sheries species between 1988 and
2004 was 118 870 t. Highest catches in kg/day were recorded from
northern Queensland (South Peninsula, SP, North Peninsula, NP
and Barron North Coast, BNC) and southeast Queensland (Moreton
South Coast, MSC) whereas the central regions (East Central Coast,
ECC Herbert North Coast, HNC) had lower catch rates (Table 1).
Mean annual SST during the observation period was highest in NP
(28.1 C) and lowest in MSC (24.1 C). Mean annual rainfall in the
bioregions ranged from 1500 mm in the Wet Tropics (BNC) to about
1000 mm in southeast Queensland (MSC) to 700 mm in the Gulf
Plains (LC) (Table 1).
3.2. Relationships of CAE with SST and rainfall
An analysis of the relationship between wet season (NovApr)
CAE and SST/rainfall indicated a variation of the strength of the relationships but with general trends for the different species within
the eight selected coastal regions (Fig. 3).
Barramundi CAE correlation with rainfall resulted in signicant
values for SP (r = 0.63, P < 0.01) and BNC (r = 0.54, P < 0.05) and the
Gulf of Carpentaria (r = 0.49, P < 0.05). Positive correlations between
mud crab catches during the wet season and rainfall were significant in BNC (r = 0.67, P < 0.01) and with a similar relationship for
another ve regions but with lower r values. For tiger prawns, CAE
relationships were detected for seven regions. Relationships with
SST were signicant in ECC (r = 0.64, P < 0.01), in PC (r = 0.59, P < 0.01)
and BNC (r = 0.43, P < 0.05) and signicant with rainfall in MSC
(r = 0.48, P < 0.05). However, in this region (MSC), temperature was
signicant correlated to endeavour prawn CAE (r = 0.51, P > 0.01).
Flathead CAE had no signicant correlation, whereas Whiting CAE
had signicant positive relationships with SST in MSC (r = 0.47,
P < 0.05) and PC (r = 0.43, P < 0.05). Mullet CAE was also signicant
positively correlated with SST in MSC (r = 0.43, P < 0.05) (Fig. 3).
Signicant stepwise multiple regression models for annual sheries CAE and climate variables with one and two year lags are
presented below.

J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376


Fig. 3. Positive Pearson correlation values in eight coastal regions for relationships between CAE (catch adjusted for effort) from seven coastal sheries species and average
wet season rainfall and SST data for the period 19882004. Values r > 0.30 are signicant at the P < 0.05 level and values r > 0.50 at the P < 0.01 level (n = 17).


J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

Table 3
Signicant stepwise multiple regression models that correspond with the biology of the species for annual (a), one-year lagged (b) and two-year lagged (c) CAE (catch adjusted
for effort) and seven climate variables from eight coastal regions. Fisheries parameters and climate variables were from monthly time series. Max indicates the highest SST
per year. NP, North Peninsula; SP, South Peninsula; LC, Lower Carpentaria; HNC, Herbert North Coast; ECC, East Central Coast; PSC, Port Curtis South Coast; MSC, Moreton
South Coast, BNC, Barron North Coast.


Climatic parameter

Adj. r2

Mud crab
Mud crab
Mud crab
Endeavour Prawns
Endeavour Prawns
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns


SST max + rain wet + SOI NovApr + SST + annual rain

Annual rain + SOI years + rain wet
SST max + rain wet + SST
Rain wet + SOI + SST
SST max + SST + SOI + SOI MayOct
SST max + rain wet + SOI + SST + SOI MayOct
Rain wet
SOI MayOct + annual rain
SOI MayOct + annual rain
Rain wet + SST + SOI NovApr + annual rain
SST max + SST + annual rain
Rain wet + SST
SST max + SOI NovApr + SOI
SST max + SST
SST max + SOI + rain wet

0.647** ,
0.654** ,



Climatic parameter

Adj. r2

Endeavour Prawns
Endeavour Prawns
Endeavour Prawns
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns


SOI NovApr
SOI MayOct + SOI + annual rain
Rain wet + SOI NovApr
SOI + rain wet + SST
SSTmax + SST + annual rain
Annual rain
SSTmax + annual rain
Rain wet + SOI + SST + SOI NovApr

0.732** ,
0.767** ,



Climatic parameter

Adj. r2

Mud crab
Mud crab
Mud crab


SST max + rain wet + SOI + SST

Annual rain + SOI + SST + SOI MayOct + sum rain
SOI MayOct + SST + annual rain
Rain wet + SOI
Rain wet + SST + SOI + SOI MayOct
Rain wet + SOI
Rain wet + SST + SOI + SOI MayOct
SOI MayOct
Rain wet + SOI + SOI MayOct + annual rain
Annual rain + SOI NovApr

0.713** ,
0.717** ,


P < 0.05.
P < 0.01.
Bonferroni adj. P < 0.002.

3.3. Barramundi

3.4. Flathead

Stepwise multiple regression identied signicant models for

seven out of eight coastal regions (except BNC), explaining
between 24% and 52% of the annual barramundi CAE variation.
The models included average wet season rainfall, SOI and SST
as predictors. The models were different for each region but
all included some measure of rainfall, with average wet season rainfall being the most relevant variable for barramundi CAE
variation. Signicant models involving a two-year lag of barramundi CAE were recorded for ve regions (NP, HNC, SP, PC, ECC),
with r2 ranging from 0.42 to 0.71. Wet season rainfall and SOI
were the main predictors in all these models (Table 3ac and
Fig. 4).

Stepwise multiple regression identied one signicant model

based on SST and SOI that could explain 24% of the annual athead
CAE variation in MSC. A one-year lag showed an improved model
explaining 39% of the variation based on wet season SOI and a
two-year lag provided signicant models for PC and ECC that may
explain 29% and 58% of the catch variation, respectively (Table 3ac
and Fig. 4).
3.5. Mud crabs
Three signicant models that could explain from 43% to 68% of
the annual mud crab CAE variation were found. The models for PC

J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

and HNC where similar and both included SOI values from May
to October and annual rainfall as the best predictors. The primary
factors that explained the highest proportion of variability in the
annual mud crab CAE in MSC were annual SST and SOI values. A
two-year lag of mud crab CAE resulted in signicant models for
three regions (HNC, PC, ECC), explaining between 22% and 71% of
the variation. For HNC, temperature provided the best predictor
whereas for PC and ECC wet season rainfall was the most relevant
factor explaining lagged mud crab CAE variation (Table 3ac and
Fig. 4).


3.6. Endeavour and tiger prawns

Two signicant models could explain, respectively, 38% and
45% of the annual endeavour prawn CAE variation. The model
for HNC included both measures of SST and wet season rainfall,
SOI values and annual rainfall as possible predictors. The annual
endeavour prawn CAE variation in ECC was best explained by
annual SOI values. Signicant one-year lag models of endeavour prawn CAE were found for four regions (SP, BNC, NP), with
r2 values ranging from 0.31 (P < 0.05) to 0.41 (P < 0.01). Endeav-

Fig. 4. Example of linear regression between climate variables and sheries CAE. The best t for the same year and for a one or two year lag is shown for each species. Rainfall
in mm and sea surface temperature in C has been log-transformed.


J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

Fig. 4. (Continued ).

our prawn CAE variations from the northern regions were best
explained by SOI values or wet season rainfall while southern
endeavour prawn CAE variations were best explained by annual
Four signicant models could explain from 23% to 50% of the
variation in the annual tiger prawn CAE for ECC, MSC, PC and NP. For
the ECC, PC and MSC regions, SST was the most important predictor.
For the NP region, high temperatures and SOI values contributed
most to the model. When lagged by one year, signicant r2 values
were recorded for NP (r2 = 0.73, P < 0.01), MSC (r2 = 0.52, P < 0.01)
and PC (r2 = 0.42, P < 0.01) (Table 3ac and Fig. 4).
3.7. Whiting and mullet
A signicant model based on high water temperatures, SOI
and wet season rainfall for whiting CAE was found for PC. A
one and two-year lag of whiting CAE revealed signicant models
in MSC and HNC based on annual rainfall, high water temperatures and SOI (one-year lag: HNC r2 = 0.77, P < 0.01; MSC r2 = 0.40,
P < 0.01; two-year lag: HNC r2 = 0.57, P < 0.01; MSC r2 = 0.31,
P < 0.05).
A two-year lag for mullet CAE showed SST may explain 25% of
the mullet CAE variation in PC (Table 3ac and Fig. 4).

3.8. Multivariate analyses

A nMDS plot based on average annual SST, rainfall and catch
in kg/day from eight coastal regions and correlation values from
catch, SST and rainfall relationships showed the distribution
of annual SST and rainfall correlations with the CAE for seven
coastal sheries species (Fig. 5a and b). SST with catch correlations
were in general stronger in the southern regions and strong
rainfall/catch correlations were recorded in the northern regions,
with exceptions for the Barron and Gulf region where correlations
between annual catch and climate variables were non-signicant.
The nMDS results also suggested three distinct regional groups:
(1) southeast Queensland with MSC, PC and ECC; (2) the northern
coast with BNC and HMC and (3) the far north Queensland with
the LC, SP and NP (Fig. 5a and b).
4. Discussion
Commercial sheries and climate data from eight coastal
regions in Queensland with a wide range of temperature and rainfall revealed the possible effects of climate variation on coastal
sheries CAE. Catch rate/climate relationships were often regionand species-specic. Bioregions (Pease, 1999), genetic variation and

J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

Fig. 5. nMDS plot showing the eight coastal regions falling into three distinct
regional groups (southeast Queensland, central and northern Queensland) and the
distribution of temperature (a) and rainfall (b) correlations with catch. Size of the
circles indicates the strength of the correlation between the climate variables and
total annual CAE from seven coastal sheries species.

physiological adaptation of the species (Colosimo et al., 2003; Salini

and Shaklee, 1988) are known to affect sh catch. The distribution
of coastal sh species is usually affected by complex interactions
between salinity, temperature, turbidity, type of substratum, vegetation and life history (Blaber, 1997). Our results showed that the
relationship between climate variables and some coastal sheries
species varies with the species geographical distribution range but
the correlation with sh catch remains strong. By examining many
regional populations at once, it was possible to detect general patterns (e.g. a positive relationship with temperature evident at the
colder limit of a species range). Temperature and rainfall are functionally related variables in particular in respect to the life cycle
of coastal sh species and should be investigated simultaneously.
The collinearity between them therefore has not been removed for
this analysis. Separations between rainfall and temperature can,
however, be made based on the species biology. Trends have been
observed for some species, e.g. barramundi (Lates calcarifer) and
mud crab (Scylla serrata), where temperature was not as significantly correlated with catch compared with rainfall (Meynecke
et al., 2006). Given that correlation does not imply causality, we
have considered the species biology to provide further support of
the results.
4.1. Biological plausibility of results
4.1.1. Inuence of rainfall on catch
Barramundi, athead, mud crab, tiger and endeavour prawn
catches were in many regions signicantly related to rainfall as a


proxy for freshwater runoff, thus, indicating that freshwater ow

supports higher catch rates of these species throughout the eight
selected regions in Queensland. In particular wet season rainfall
might have a strong effect determining survivorship of juvenile
stages and trigger spawning events. This general positive relationship for most species and regions may result from increased food
availability (Bennett et al., 1995), improved or altered water quality
(Attrill and Power, 2000), possible inland migration of estuarine
residents (Dolbeth et al., 2008), stronger environmental cues for
spawning (Lytle and Poff, 2004) or by reducing predation pressure
from marine species, especially visual predators (Martinho et al.,
For example, high rainfall during the wet season two years prior
signicantly correlated with barramundi CAE (Table 3ac). These
results are congruent with observations (Balston, 2009b) that barramundi ngerlings travel upstream to freshwater for two to four
years of growth as males, and then return to marine environments
to mature (Davis, 1985; Moore, 1982). Flatheads (Platycephalus
spp.) spawn in estuaries and coastal waters during spring and summer (Kailola et al., 1993), with sexual maturity for dusky athead
occurring after approximately two to three years in Queensland
(DPI, 2006). Positive relationships between the two-year lagged
annual CAE of athead and rainfall in the wet season in ECC and
PC could therefore reect increased catch due to high ows inducing successful spawning migration two years prior to catch. The
positive effect of SOI values in the dry season could be related
to higher rainfall and also lower temperatures during spring time
when spawning occurs. The signicant correlation between wet
season rainfall two years prior to mud crab CAE (in the regions
HNC, BNC, PC, ECC) could be caused by the reduction in numbers of
subadult and adult crabs in the river systems with increased runoff.
This may enhance the survival of juveniles because of reduced cannibalism and competition for burrows, thus explaining a two-year
lag effect (Loneragan and Bunn, 1999).
Increased freshwater ow can also have an immediate effect
on catchability. Barramundi catch is likely increased through
downstream migration of mature individuals and increased food
availability (Balston, 2009a; Grifn, 1993; Robins et al., 2005). The
strength of the relationship, however, varies with the geographical
region. One contributing factor could be the conrmed differences
in the genotype of Australian barramundi populations (Marshall,
2005). Similar to barramundi, the catchability of athead increases
with freshwater runoff (rainfall) stimulating the movement of athead species (Loneragan and Bunn, 1999). Freshwater ow also
stimulates the downstream movement of mud crabs (Hill et al.,
Tiger and endeavour prawn catches in northern Queensland (NP,
SP) were positively related to rainfall and SOI. This was also true for
a one-year lag. Previous studies found signicant positive relationships between annual catch and total freshwater ow (or rainfall) in
the same or previous year (estimated time for prawns to recruit to
the shery) (Galindo-Bect et al., 2000; Gammelsrod, 1992; Gunter
and Hildebrand, 1954; Ruello, 1973; Vance et al., 1985) and a signicant negative correlation between wet season temperature and
annual prawn catch in the Karumba region (Gulf of Carpentaria),
where the water temperature regularly exceeds 30 C (Vance et al.,
1985). This is supported by Staples and Heales (1991), who found
the lowest survival rates of juvenile P. merguiensis at warm temperature (>30 C) and low salinity (<10 ppt). This also seems to be
the case for P. semisulcatus (Xu et al., 1995). However, in southern
regions low temperatures become a limiting factor, strengthening the correlation with higher temperatures (Myers, 1998). In
subtropical Queensland, where the seasonal variation in water temperature is higher than in tropical waters, warm temperatures
were associated with higher juvenile catches in a river system in
southeast Queensland (Meager, 2003), thus supporting our nd-


J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

ings of temperature as a main correlate for tiger and endeavour

prawn catches in this region. The positive relationships between
penaeid prawns and warm temperature in the southern regions
might also be related to the increase of catchability due to increased
Warm temperature during the wet season correlated positively
with mud crab (S. serrata) catch in the subtropical south (MSC
region), which is likely a result of enhanced crab feeding activity
(Loneragan and Bunn, 1999). Williams and Hill (1982) also found
that mud crab catches in southeast Queensland were positively
correlated with daily water temperature (r = 0.56, n = 44), but not
with salinity (r = 0.09, n = 44), when salinity ranged between 24 and
35 ppt. Weaker correlation between wet season rainfall and mud
crab catch in NP and SP are likely due to the fact that most areas
in Far North Queensland are not accessible during the wet season,
in particular during peak rainfall events. However, low catches of
mud crabs in the Gulf of Carpentaria have also been attributed by
commercial shers to high migration rates of mud crabs out of
shing areas and recruitment failure occurring as a consequence
of extended periods of freshwater runoff (Helmke et al., 1998).
Hill (1975) reported that heavy oods reducing salinity to 2 ppt
severely reduced the number of mud crabs in two South African
4.1.2. Inuence of temperature on catch
Temperature most likely affects juvenile sh during estuarine
residency, explaining variations in assemblage composition, abundance and growth depending on whether they are eurythermic or
A signicant model for mullet CAE variations in southeast
Queensland resulted from a two-year lag of catch with SST
as the variable, indicating that salinity (freshwater runoff) is
unlikely a main factor determining catchability of mullet in southeast Queensland. Results from observations on sea mullet (Mugil
cephalus) in Indo-Pacic estuaries showed that individuals can be
concentrated in high salinity sites (Silva and De Silva, 1981) or in
oligo- to mesohaline sites (Marais, 1981), but this may be the result
of differences in food availability rather than salinity (Trape et al.,
2009). However, timing of their reproductive cycle suggests that
warmer periods between May and August may stimulate migration
out of the estuaries and therefore increases catchability, since most
mullet is caught along beaches and not in estuaries (Gillson et al.,
2009). The dominant catch season of mullet is during the Australian
winter months (AprilAugust), with almost 80% of the Queensland catch harvested during this time, which is mainly due to the
breeding migration of this species. However, drier but warmer wet
seasons would increase benthic algal productivity (Liston et al.,
1992) in the estuaries and therefore strengthen the 0+ year-class
with increased catches lagged by 23 years, which is the estimated time it takes juveniles of this species group to recruit to the
Whiting CAE in MSC and HNC was signicantly correlated to
high temperatures and wet season rainfall, with temperature during the wet season being the most important factor in southeast
Queensland for annual, one and two-year lagged CAE. The spawning of sand whiting in southern Queensland occurs from September
to February in the lower reaches of estuaries and nearshore coastal
waters (Morton, 1985). Sexual maturity for whiting occurs after
approximately two to three years in subtropical waters. Warm
waters during the spawning period would increase catchability in
estuaries and coastal waters due to higher activity of this species.
Similar to analyses on sand whiting in NSW (Gillson et al., 2009),
annual rainfall was not correlated to whiting CAE in any of the
Queensland regions. Relationships between climate variables and
whiting CAE lagged by age at rst maturity indicated a likely
recruitment effect.

4.2. Confounding factors

Relationships between estuarine catch and climate variables are
potentially confounded by factors such as shing effort (Browder,
1985; da Silva, 1985), demand, and distribution of available habitats that are themselves signicantly correlated with temperature
and rainfall. Analyses can be improved by adjusting catchability
through increased shing power for each species and shing gear.
Vance and Bishop (2003) estimated that shing power for banana
prawns in the Queensland northern prawn shery increased by
3.5 times from 1979 to 1999. A reason why some regions had
no signicant relationships with any of the climate variables was
likely due to the low catch rates of this species group in those
regions. One way to remove the uncertainty of the relationships
would be to assess the relationships based on individual estuaries to account for hydrological and biological differences between
catchments, which at this stage is not possible for many estuaries due to low catch rates or data gaps between years. The use of
catch data has been criticised as an abundance measure as it can
be inuenced by the economics of the sheries (Maunder et al.,
2006), the dynamics of other species in other sheries (Dulvy
et al., 2003) and changes in management practices (Sampson,
1991; Bene and Tewk, 2001). Therefore, caution has to be applied
when using sh catch data. However, it is in many cases the only
available information on many small scale sheries species. Independent studies, e.g. on mud crab abundance in Queensland have
shown similar trends compared to the sheries catch data (Brown,

5. Conclusion
Coastal sheries are inuenced by variation in temperature
and rainfall via impacts on recruitment and catchability affecting
catch rates. Temperature may regulate sheries catch rates by
stimulating growth rates, primary productivity and higher activity.
Rainfall as an indicator of freshwater runoff stimulates migration
and schooling due to salinity uctuations. Regional differences
of climatic effects on sheries catch were particularly evident
between southeast Queensland, the tropical east coast and Gulf of
There is still a lack of understanding about some of the fundamental biological mechanisms behind the relationships detected,
e.g. the inuence of salinity trigger values on mud crab movement,
but these observations could formulate hypotheses for future work.
The fact that the relationship between catch and climate variables
is not consistent between regions (as previously assumed) is also
worth further attention, reiterating the importance of spatiallyexplicit management strategies for these sheries in the face of
climate change.
Warming and greater climate extremes predicted for Australia
(Hughes, 2003) can alter primary production, regional currents
and water quality, which may cause a change in sh migration,
abundance, growth and survival. This trend has consequences for
the catchability of commercial sh species and the quality or size
of the catch. Catch rates may then be reduced in certain areas and
shing pressure increased (e.g. increase of shing days and net
size) as a compensatory response, risking overexploitation and
economic loss. Studies about recruitment mechanisms and the
effect of climate factors on annual and seasonal catch can provide
crucial information for multispecies management and help predict
the long-term consequences of climate change (Myers, 1998).
There is the need for long-term studies which can provide further
insight into the relationships between climate variables and CAE
to better explain catch variability. Understanding how interactions
between climate variables and coastal sh species can have such a

J.-O. Meynecke, S.Y. Lee / Fisheries Research 110 (2011) 365376

marked effect is essential when considering the wider implications

of climate change on coastal sheries.

We would like to thank Dr. Anthony Richardson (CSIRO)
and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and revision.
Many thanks to the Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries
Assessment and Monitoring Unit (Department of Employment,
Development & Innovation) for provision of sh catch data and to
the Bureau of Meteorology for access to temperature and rainfall

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