Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Short-term climate variability and the commercial barramundi (Lates calcarifer) fishery of north-east Queensland, Australia

Jacqueline Balston
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence, PO Box 937, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia.

B School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, PO Box 6811, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia.

C Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 60(9) 912-923
Submitted: 9 October 2008  Accepted: 2 March 2009   Published: 22 September 2009


The sustainable productivity of estuarine fisheries worldwide is threatened by over-fishing, habitat destruction and water impoundment. In some cases, the natural variability of freshwater inputs has been shown to affect catch when low flows reduce nutrient input and inundated nursery habitats. Historically, the annual commercial catch of barramundi (Lates calcarifer) in Queensland has been highly variable for reasons not fully understood. In conjunction with a life-cycle model, statistical analyses of climate variables and barramundi catch data from the Princess Charlotte Bay area identified several significant relationships. Warm sea surface temperatures, high rainfall, increased freshwater flow and low evaporation (all measures of an extensive and productive nursery habitat) were significantly correlated with barramundi catch 2 years later and suggest that young barramundi survival is enhanced under these conditions. Catchability was significantly increased with high freshwater flow and rainfall events in the year of catch. A forward stepwise ridge regression model that included a measure of rainfall and evaporation 2 years before catch explained 62% of the variance in catch adjusted for effort. It is recommended that the impact of climate variability be considered in the management of wild barramundi stocks and possibly other species not yet examined.

Additional keywords: ENSO, MJO, SOI, sustainable management.


This study forms part of a doctoral research project funded by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water and the Queensland Centre for Climate Change Excellence. In-kind support was provided by the James Cook University School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Thanks to my supervisors Drs Steve Turton, Neil Gribble and Roger Stone and journal referees who all provided valuable advice in the development of this paper.


ABARE (2006). Australian Fisheries Statistics 2005. Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Canberra.

Agcopra, C. (2005). Predictive system for aquaculture ponds Queensland Aquaculture News 27, 3.

Allan, R. J. (1988). El Niño Southern Oscillation influences in the Australasian region. Progress in Physical Geography 12, 313–348.
CrossRef |

ANCA (1996). ‘A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia.’ (Australian Nature Conservation Agency: Canberra.)

Anyamba, E. K. , and Weare, B. C. (1995). Temporal variability of the 40–50-day oscillation in tropical convection. International Journal of Climatology 15, 379–402.
CrossRef |

Balston J. M., and Williams A. A. J. (2005). Modelling impacts of climate variability on the commercial barramundi (Lates calcarifer) fishery of north-eastern Queensland. In ‘International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM): Advances and Applications for Management and Decision Making. Melbourne, Australia’. (Eds A. Zerger and R. M. Argent.) p. 456. (Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand Inc.: Melbourne.)

BOM (2005). ‘Bureau of Meteorology Website.’ Available at [accessed May 2005].

Bucher, D. , and Saenger, P. (1994). A classification of tropical and subtropical Australian estuaries. Aquatic Conservation: Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems 4, 1–19.
CrossRef |

Chandler, R. E. , and Wheater, H. S. (2002). Analysis of rainfall variability using generalised linear models: a case study from the west of Ireland. Water Resources Research 38, 1194.
CrossRef |

Clewett J. F., Clarkson N. N., George D. A., Ooi S. H., Owens D. T., Partridge I. J., and Simpson G. B. (2003). Rainman StreamFlow version 4.3: a comprehensive climate and streamflow analysis package on CD to assess seasonal forecasts and manage climate risk. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Coates M., and Unwin L. (1991). Ponded pastures and the habitat requirements of barramundi (Lates calcarifer). In ‘proceedings of the Probing Ponded Pastures Workshop’. pp. 82–88. (University of Central Queensland: Rockhamplin, Qld.)

Cordery I. (1998). Forecasting precipitation from atmospheric circulation and SOI. In ‘Hydrology in a Changing Environment’. (Eds H. Wheater and C. Kirby.) pp. 63–69. (British Hydrological Society: Exeter, UK.)

Davis, T. L. O. (1982). Maturity and sexuality in barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in the Northern Territory and south-eastern Gulf of Carpentaria. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 33, 529–545.
CrossRef |

Davis, T. L. O. (1985). Seasonal changes in gonad maturity, and abundance of larval and early juveniles of barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in Van Diemen Gulf and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 36, 177–190.
CrossRef |

DEH (2001). Coasts and Oceans, Australia State of the Environment Report 2001. Australian State of the Environment Committee, Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra.

DPI (1993). The Condition of River Catchments in Queensland. Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Drinkwater, K. F. , and Frank, K. T. (1994). Effects of river regulation and diversion on marine fish and invertebrates. Aquatic Conservation: Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems 4, 135–151.
CrossRef |

Dunstan D. J. (1959). The barramundi Lates calcarifer (Bloch) in Queensland waters. CSIRO, Melbourne.

Garrett R. (1991). Utilization of wetland habitats by coastal fishes in northern Australia. In ‘Proceedings of the Probing Ponded Pastures Workshop’. pp. 94–114. (University of Central Queensland.: Rockhampton, Qld.)

Garrett R. N. (1986). Reproduction of Queensland barramundi (Lates calcarifer). In ‘Management of Wild and Cultured Sea Bass/Barramundi (Lates calcarifer)’. (Eds J. W. Copland and D. L. Grey.) pp. 38–43. (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research: Darwin.)

Garrett R. N., and Russell D. J. (1982). Premanagement investigations into the barramundi Lates calcarifer (Bloch) in northeast Queensland waters: a report to the Fishing Industry Research Committee. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Glaister, J. P. (1978). The impact of river discharge on distribution and production of the school prawn Metapenaeus macleayi (Haswell) (Crustacea: Penaeidae) in the Clarence River Region, Northern New South Wales. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 29, 311–323.
CrossRef |

Griffin R. K. (1982). A survey of amateur angling for barramundi (Lates calcarifer) in the Northern Territory. Technical Report No. 2, Northern Territory Department of Primary Production, Darwin.

Griffin R. K. (1985). The importance of mangrove/coastal wetland to three commercial fisheries in the Northern Territory particularly for barramundi (Lates calcarifer). In ‘Coasts and Tidal Wetlands of the Australian Monsoon Region’. (Eds K. N. Bardsley, J. D. S. Davie and C. D. Woodroffe.) (Australian National University: Darwin.)

Heap A., Bryce S., Ryan D., Radke L., Smith C., Smith R., Harris P., and Heggie D. (2001). Australian Estuaries and Coastal Waterways: A Geoscience Perspective for Improved and Integrated Resource Management. Australian Geological Survey Organisation, 2001/7, Canberra.

Hendon, H. , and Liebmann, B. (1990). The intraseasonal (30–50 day) oscillation of the Australian summer monsoon. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 47, 2909–2924.
CrossRef |

Johnston R. (2005). Discrete depth distributions of aquatic fauna within isolated pools. In ‘Research for Coastal Management – Coastal CRC Conference’. p. 60. (CRC for Coastal Zone Estuary and Waterway Management: Coolangatta, Qld.)

Jones, C. , Waliser, D. E. , Lau, K. M. , and Stern, W. (2004). Global occurrences of extreme precipitation and the Madden–Julian Oscillation: observations and predictability. Journal of Climate 17, 4575–4589.
CrossRef |

Keenan, C. P. (1994). Recent evolution of population structure in Australian barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch): an example of isolation by distance in one dimension. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 45, 1123–1148.
CrossRef |

Klyashtorin, L. (1998). Long-term climate change and main commercial fish production in the Atlantic and Pacific. Fisheries Research 37, 115–125.
CrossRef |

Madden, R. A. , and Julian, P. R. (1972). Description of global-scale circulation cells in the tropics with a 40–50 day period. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 29, 1109–1123.
CrossRef |

Magro K. L., Bibby J. M., and Gribble N. A. (1996). Tropical Resource Assessment Program – Annual report 1996. FRDC Project 95/049, Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Meynecke, J. O. , Lee, S. Y. , Duke, N. , and Warnken, J. (2006). Effect of rainfall as a component of climate change on estuarine fish production in Queensland, Australia. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 69, 491–504.
CrossRef |

Moore, R. (1979). Natural sex inversion in the giant perch (Lates calcarifer). Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 30, 803–813.
CrossRef |

Moore, R. (1982). Spawning and early life history of barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in Papua New Guinea. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 33, 647–661.
CrossRef |

Moore, R. , and Reynolds, L. F. (1982). Migration patterns of barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in Papua New Guinea. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 33, 671–682.
CrossRef |

Myers, R. (1998). When do environment–recruitment correlations work? Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 8, 285–305.
CrossRef |

Pauly, D. , and Pullin, S. V. (1988). Hatching time in spherical, pelagic, marine fish eggs in response to temperature and egg size. Environmental Biology of Fishes 22, 261–271.
CrossRef |

Platten J. R. (1996). The influence of river freshwater discharge on fishery catch rates in Queensland waters. Department of Natural Resources, Rockhampton, Qld.

Platten J. R. (1999). Historical trends in recreational fishing catches. Gladstone Area Waterboard, Rockhampton, Qld.

Power, S. , Casey, T. , Folland, C. , Colman, A. , and Mehta, V. (1999). Inter-decadal modulation of the impact of ENSO on Australia. Climate Dynamics 15, 319–324.
CrossRef |

Pyper, B. J. , and Peterman, R. M. (1998). Comparison of methods to account for autocorrelation in correlation analyses of fish data. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 55, 2127–2140.
CrossRef |

Robins, J. B. , Halliday, I. A. , Staunton-Smith, J. , Mayer, D. G. , and Sellin, M. J. (2005). Freshwater flow requirements of estuarine fisheries in tropical Australia: a review of the state of knowledge and application of a suggested approach. Marine and Freshwater Research 56, 343–360.
CrossRef |

Robins, J. B. , Mayer, D. G. , Staunton-Smith, J. , Halliday, I. A. , Sawynok, B. , and Sellin, M. J. (2006). Variable growth rates of a tropical estuarine fish species (barramundi, Lates calcarifer Bloch) under different freshwater flow conditions. Journal of Fish Biology 69, 379–391.
CrossRef |

Ruello, N. V. (1973). The influence of rainfall on the distribution and abundance of the school prawn Metapenaeus macleayi in the Hunter River region (Australia). Marine Biology 23, 221–228.
CrossRef |

Russell, D. J. , and Garrett, R. N. (1983). Use by juvenile barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), and other fishes of temporary supralittoral habitats in a tropical estuary in northern Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 34, 805–811.
CrossRef |

Russell, D. J. , and Garrett, R. N. (1985). Early life history of barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in north-eastern Queensland. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 36, 191–201.

Russell, D. J. , and Garrett, R. N. (1988). Movements of juvenile barramundi, Lates calcarifer (Bloch), in north-eastern Queensland. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 39, 117–123.
CrossRef |

Sawynok B. (1998). Fitzroy River effects of freshwater flows on fish. InfoFish Services, Rockhampton, Qld.

Shaklee, J. B. , Salini, J. P. , and Garrett, R. N. (1993). Electrophoretic characterization of multiple genetic stocks of barramundi perch in Queensland, Australia. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 122, 685–701.
CrossRef | CAS |

Shapiro, S. S. , Wilk, M. B. , and Chen, H. J. (1968). A comparative study of various tests of normality. Journal of the American Statistical Association 63, 1343–1372.
CrossRef |

Staunton-Smith, J. , Robins, J. B. , Sellin, M. J. , Halliday, I. A. , and Mayer, D. G. (2004). Does the timing of freshwater flowing into a dry tropical estuary affect year-class strength of barramundi (Lates calcarifer)? Marine and Freshwater Research 55, 787–797.
CrossRef |

Stergiou, K. I. , and Christou, E. D. (1996). Modelling and forecasting annual fisheries catches: comparison of regression, univariate and multivariate time series methods. Fisheries Research 25, 105–138.
CrossRef |

Sutcliffe, W. H. (1973). Correlations between seasonal river discharge and local landings of American lobster (Homarus americanus) and Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 30, 856–859.

Sutcliffe, W. H. , Drinkwater, K. , and Muir, B. S. (1976). Correlations of fish catch and environmental factors in the Gulf of Maine. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 34, 19–30.

Troup, A. J. (1965). The ‘southern oscillation’. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 91, 490–506.
CrossRef |

Vance, D. J. , Haywood, M. D. E. , Heales, D. S. , Kenyon, R. A. , and Loneragan, N. R. (1998). Seasonal and annual variation in abundance of postlarval and juvenile banana prawns Penaeus merguiensis and environmental variation in two estuaries in tropical northeastern Australia: a six year study. Marine Ecology Progress Series 163, 21–36.
CrossRef |

Wheeler, M. C. , and Hendon, H. H. (2004). An all-season real-time multivariate MJO index: development of an index for monitoring and prediction. American Meteorological Society 132, 1917–1932.

White M. E., and Downton M. W. (1991). The shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Mexico: relation to climatic variability and global atmospheric patterns. In ‘Teleconnections Linking Worldwide Climate Anomalies: Scientific Basis and Societal Impacts’. (Eds M. H. Glantz, R. W. Katz and N. Nicholls.) pp. 459–491. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.)

Wilkes D. S. (1995). ‘Statistical Methods in Atmospheric Science.’ (Academic Press: San Diego, CA.)

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (14)