Fisheries Research Articles

Age, growth and reproductive life-history characteristics infer a high population productivity for the sustainably fished protogynous hermaphroditic yellowspotted rockcod (Epinephelus areolatus) in north-western Australia

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Fish Biology


Print: 0022-1112 Electronic: 1095-8649


Epinephelidae; extended spawning period; maturity; otolith sections; reproduction; sex change


Aquaculture and Fisheries | Marine Biology


The yellowspotted rockcod, Epinephelus areolatus, is a small-sized grouper that is widely distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific, where it forms a valuable component of the harvest derived from multispecies fisheries along continental and insular shelves. Samples of E. areolatus were collected from 2012 to 2018 from commercial catches and research surveys in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Gascoyne regions of north-western Australia to improve the understanding of the life history, inherent vulnerability and stock status of this species. Histological analysis of gonads (n = 1889) determined that E. areolatus was a monandric protogynous hermaphrodite. Non-functional spermatogenic crypts were dispersed within the ovaries of 23% of mature functioning females; nonetheless, these crypts were not observed during the immature female phase. The length and age at which 50% of females matured were 266 mm total length (LT) and 2.7 years, respectively. The spawning period was protracted over 10–12 months of the year with biannual peaks at the start of spring and autumn (i.e., September and March) when the photoperiod was at its mid-range (i.e., 12.1 h). Estimates of the lengths and ages at which 50% of E. areolatus change sex from female to male were very similar (i.e., < 5% difference) between the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, i.e., urn:x-wiley:00221112:media:jfb14889:jfb14889-math-0001 of 364 and 349 mm LT and urn:x-wiley:00221112:media:jfb14889:jfb14889-math-0002 of 7.9 and 7.3 years, respectively. A maximum age of 19 years was observed in all three regions, but there was significant regional variation in growth. These variations in growth were not correlated with latitude; instead a parabolic relationship was evident, where the smallest mean length-at-age and fastest growth rates (k) occurred in the mid-latitudes of the Pilbara region. In the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, individuals were not fully selected by commercial fish traps until 5–6 years of age, hence, several years after reaching maturity. These life-history characteristics infer a high population productivity, which underpins the sustainable harvest of this species, despite comprising the largest catches of all epinephelids in the multispecies tropical fisheries across north-western Australia.