Yellowfin bream are a true piscatorial all-rounder. For many Aussie fishos their first taste of angling success was probably with this platinum battler on the other end of their line. Their abundance within most eastern Australian estuaries and precocious nature as juveniles make them a perfect target for frothing newbies to the joys of fishing. A bit of a ‘gateway fish’, if you will. Then, as an angler’s passion for fishing deepens and their experience and skill increases, so too do the challenges of continuing to tempt these wiley warriors using different techniques. Tricking a 4-pound bluenose with a little saltwater fly, or perhaps skipping a micro popper in up under the base of a gnarly mangrove tree to induce a slurping take can require a level of stealth, accuracy, and delicate presentation that would make any tweed-clad trout fisher proud. And it is probably for this reason that entire fishing tournaments and ranges of species-specific fishing hardware have been created around this iconic species in recent years.
So we all love this inshore enigma, but how much do we know about them? In this ‘Catchy Science’ we look into the biology and ecology of the humble Yellowfin bream to help you target them more effectively…
The Yellowfin bream, Acanthopagrus australis is endemic to Australia along with its close relatives, the Black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri, and Pikey bream, Acanthopagrus berda. Sometimes it can be quite tricky to tell these species apart, but they can generally be differentiated by the colour of their ventral and anal fins, which are often yellow in yellowfin bream and brown or grey/black in Black and Pikey bream. The body colour of Yellowfin bream is also often a lighter silver colour too.
Yellowfin bream generally hang out in temperate estuarine waters along the east coast of Australia from Townsville in Queensland, down to Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. They can live for a surprisingly long time – up to around 15 years in fact… Perhaps that’s why the bigger models are so wily? They spend most of their lives skulking around in estuarine waters, but start to migrate down to the coastal surf zone during winter months from May to August to spawn once they reach sexual maturity. Not all adults participate in annual seaward spawning migrations every year however, and you can still find plenty lurking around the upper reaches of estuaries during spawning periods. And of course, not all estuaries in Australia are connected to the open ocean all the time, so some bream populations regularly live out long periods of their lives in water completely dislocated from the open ocean (For more info on this, click here: Soundcloud podcast: Fishing in ICOLs )
And here’s a fun fact: Yellowfin bream are “protandrous”, which means they change sex as they get bigger, from male to female. For more on this, click here: Soundcloud podcast: Hermaphroditism in Fish
Shallow intertidal habitats including mangroves, seagrass beds and rocky reef habitat are often where you will encounter this species most regularly, however they also seem pretty happy with how we have modified a lot of our waterways and occupy pylons, jetties, pontoons and any other man-made structure that provides shelter, refuge from tide and current, and a substrate for their favourite meals – oysters, mussels and other molluscs – to grow on, which they grind with their conical, molar-like back teeth. They can be quite visual predators, stalking shallow soft sediments that get inundated by high tides for crustacea, worms and small fish.
Studies examining their movement have shown they make distinctive movements in relation to tides, moving towards mangroves on daytime and high tides. In general, they prefer to stay close to home, but tend to move around more after big rainfall events when the water is turbid, potentially to compensate for reduced visibility by searching further afield for food.
Yellowfin bream are considered one of the most popular recreational fishes throughout much of their distribution; in fact, the recent statewide recreational fishing survey for NSW in 2013/14 reported bream to be the most commonly caught saltwater species, just knocking out flathead for the top spot.
Bream are also considered a bread-and-butter table species. In fact the recent NSW survey showed them to be the second most commonly retained saltwater species group after flathead. That’s not to say that a lot of bream aren’t released of course – in fact 72% of bream caught during the NSW survey were released, 82% of them were returned to the water because they were ‘too small’ or ‘under sized’, with around 15% released because the angler was catch and release fishing.
Whether released due to size or as part of your preferred fishing practice, it’s reassuring to know that bream generally survive well after being returned to the water. Australian research has shown that bream are quite resilient if hooked in the mouth and not played for too long (around 30 seconds), and released with minimal air exposure (five minutes or less). It’s important to remember that they can lose equilibrium after being held out of the water too, so it helps to hold them in the water for 5-20 seconds before releasing them so they can get their bearings.
Around 5% of Yellowfin bream in some estuaries in South-East Queensland and NSW can be affected by a condition known as Saddleback Syndrome (SBS), which is when they experience a deformity or loss of one or more hard spines of the dorsal fin and a crescent-shape depression in their back that can be quite pronounced. A debate exists on the cause of saddleback syndrome. Some studies suggest it may be a genetic issue, others propose that water contaminants are the cause, and yet others point out that it is result of injury. Irrespective of which factor is the cause, handling fish carefully and looking after the health of our waterways is never a bad idea.
For more information:
Butcher, P.A., Broadhurst, M.K., Reynolds, D. and Cairns, S.C., 2008. Influence of terminal rig configuration on the anatomical hooking location of line‐caught yellowfin bream, Acanthopagrus australis. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 15(4), pp.303-313.
Cowden, K.L., 1995. Induced spawning and culture of yellowfin bream, Acanthopagrus australis (Günther, 1859) and mangrove jack, Lutjanus argentimaculatus (Forsskål, 1775) (Doctoral dissertation, James Cook University).
Gannon, R., Payne, N.L., Suthers, I.M., Gray, C.A., Van Der Meulen, D.E. and Taylor, M.D., 2015. Fine-scale movements, site fidelity and habitat use of an estuarine dependent sparid. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 98(6), pp.1599-1608.
Reynolds, D.P., Broadhurst, M.K., Butcher, P.A. and Rolfe, M., 2009. Effects of angler‐induced exercise and air exposure on the mortality of mouth‐hooked yellowfin bream (Acanthopagrus australis). Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 25(1), pp.100-103.
West, L.D., Stark, K.E., Murphy, J.J., Lyle J.M. and Ochwada-Doyle F.A. (2015). Survey of Recreational Fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 149. NSW Department of Primary Industries.