Larval Distribution and Recruitment

An extensive distribution of phyllosoma and puerulus larvae of  J. edwardsii has been observed in areas along the east coast of the North and South Islands, and the Tasman Sea, to areas outside the EEZ boundary.  Information on larval settlement patterns is available from several parts of the country.


Most late-stage phyllosoma larvae occur beyond the edge of the continental shelf to 1100 km from the coast.  Larvae undergo diurnal vertical migration, moving into the top 150 m of the water column at night and dispersing in deeper water during the day.  It is possible that late stage phyllosoma larvae delay metamorphosis to the puerulus stage, perhaps until they encounter an environmental cue such as lower salinity shelf water.


Puerulus larvae are most common in the plankton within the shelf edge.  They are near the sea bottom during the day and rise in the water column at night.   They have been observed to settle on the sea bed at depths to 10 m.


The puerulus settlement season varies with locality.  Along the east coast of Northland and the Bay of Plenty the main settlement season is probably summer; from East Cape through Cook Strait settlement occurs in both summer and winter.  Autumn appears to be the main settlement period in the north-east of the South Island; winter and spring are the main settlement seasons south of  Banks Peninsula; year-round settlement is possible along the west coast of the South Island.

The highest larval settlements have been seen along the east coast of the North Island south of Matakaoa Point, the northeast and south coasts of the South Island and the north Taranaki coast.


Because of the long larval life, the origins of larvae are difficult to determine.  Larvae hatched in one area may be retained in that area by local eddy systems carried to other areas by currents, or lost to New Zealand entirely.  Eddy systems have been identified off the east coast North Island that may help to retain larvae within this area.  However, for most areas larvae may originate a considerable distance from the settlement site.


The only known large breeding population of S. verreauxi is near Cape Reinga.  The larval life is probably similar to that of
J. edwardsii.  The developing phyllosoma larvae are probably carried by the East Auckland Current towards the Bay of Plenty.  The puerulus larvae probably settle out of the plankton at various sites along this coast.  A few larvae may be transported south of East Cape, but most either settle out before reaching this area or are lost to the north-east, towards the Kermadec Trench.

Age and Growth

Rock lobsters, as do all crustaceans, increase in size by moulting.  Growth rate is a function of both moulting frequency and moult increment.   Because rock lobsters lack structures that would allow them to be aged, growth has been estimated from size-frequency distributions and tagging experiments.


Estimates of the growth rates for small J. edwardsii are available from the Gisborne area and Stewart Island.   Males and females in Gisborne both reach about 38 mm CL one year after settlement and about 58 mm CL after two years.  At Stewart Island, after one, two and three years they have reached 33 mm, 52 mm, and 68 mm CL.


Growth rates of larger animals have been estimated for a number of areas.  The estimates of growth per moult, moult frequency, and annual growth vary between areas and between the sexes for the same area.  The estimates come from ongoing tag release and recapture studies across most rock lobster management areas.


In most areas moulting is seasonal, with immature and mature animals of both sexes having their own distinct periods, which may vary between areas.  Smaller males (between about 70 mm and 80 mm CL) from most areas generally moult twice a year.  Large males moult once each year; very large males may moult even less often.


Information on the growth rate of S. verreauxi is limited mainly to animals between 120 mm and 159 mm CL.  Males and females between 120 mm and 139 mm CL moult at least once a year, between July and November, and perhaps twice, with an increment of about 7 mm CL per moult.  Animals between 140 mm and 159 mm CL moult once a year between July and November, with an average increment of about 6.8 mm and 6.0 mm CL for males and females respectively.


For management, the most important movements would be large-scale migrations or inshore- offshore movements.  Extensive tagging of J. edwardsii has been conducted in many areas.  In most areas fewer than 5% of the returns have moved more than 5 km.   Such areas include Tauroa Point, Banks Peninsula, Gisborne, Wellington, and Fiordland.


Movement patterns in southern New Zealand appear to involve two groups of animals: “run” rock lobsters that migrate over long distances, and “resident” rock lobsters that do not.   In most  studies,  only  up  to  4%  tagged  lobsters  moved  significantly  from  the  release  site. However, when “run” lobsters were tagged, between 27.6% and 38.6% recaptures showed long-distance movements.


The long-distance movements of J. edwardsii tagged in southern New Zealand tend to be directional: southward along the Otago coast and the east coast of Stewart Island, westward through  Foveaux  Strait  and  northward  along  the  west  coast  of  Stewart  Island  and  the Fiordland  coast, in  opposition  to  the  prevailing current  systems.    These  movements  also  appear to be seasonal, usually occurring off the Otago coast and through Foveaux Strait from September through November and along the Fiordland coast during November through January. Most migrating females are immature, moving from Otago and Foveaux Strait, which have a large size at 50% maturity to Fiordland, with a  smaller size at 50%


maturity.   These movements may be a “contranatant migration” in which animals migrate against the current that carries the larvae.


The long-distance movements of S. verreauxi in northern New Zealand also appear directional. All but two recaptures tagged at North Cape moved to the west or southwest, most to near Cape Reinga.  Of the female recaptures, only 10% were mature when tagged, but 80% were mature when recaptured.   Only 10% of the females tagged at North Cape had setae on the pleopods, but 80% had setae when recaptured.  This may be another contranatant migration, with juveniles at about the time of maturation near North Cape moving towards Cape Reinga, where the only large breeding population of this species is known.


There may also be a return movement towards the north against the prevailing current system along the east coast of the North Island by juvenile S. verreauxi. Most of the sublegal lobsters and immature females tagged between Bream Bay and Mahia moved north or west before recapture.   Large numbers of sublegal animals are found on the east coast south of North Cape, but some legal-sized mature females are also found in this area.  Thus juveniles from this area may also move towards Cape Reinga just before attaining sexual maturity.


Stock units and fisheries

The rock lobster fisheries extend from the Three Kings Islands in the north to the Snares Islands  in  the  south, and  to  the  Chatham Islands  in  the  east.    The  main  fishery  is  for  J. edwardsii (CRA), which accounts for nearly all landings.   There are currently ten quota management areas for CRA although one (CRA 10) is only an administrative designation and no fishing of any consequence is carried out there.


S. verreauxi; (PHC) is caught mainly in the north of the North Island and there is only one quota management area for all New Zealand waters.


Preliminary morphometric studies conducted on run and resident lobsters near Stewart Island show that the two groups can be distinguished on the basis


of the telson length to carapace length ratio, but such differences may be environmentally induced.


The  lack  of  genetic  differences  among  areas,  the  long  larval  phase  and  long-distance movements of adults in some areas all suggest a single J. edwardsii stock around the mainland.


Recent stock assessments have addressed individual CRA areas (CRA 7 and CRA 8 in 2006; CRA 4 in 2003 and 2005; CRA 3 in 2001, 2004 and 2008; CRA 5 in 2003; CRA 1 and CRA 2 in 2002).


For earlier assessments, the seven principle mainland areas were grouped on the basis of similarities in relation to size at maturity, the timing of biological cycles,

and the perceived interchange between areas.  CRA 7 and CRA 8 are designated the “NSS” sub-stock.  CRA 1 and CRA 2 are called the “NSN”, and CRA 3, CRA 4, and CRA 5 are called the “NSC”.


Genetic and morphometric samples have not been collected at the Chatham Islands, and, because of their geographical isolation, the rock lobsters from this area are also treated as a separate stock for management purposes.


Genetic and morphometric samples have not been taken for S. verreauxi.   Because
of the limited   distribution of  mature   females  near  Cape   Reinga,  and   the  highly  directional movements of tagged animals to this area, the species is considered a single stock.


© NZ Rock Lobster Industry Council Ltd