Leopard Coral Trout

Plectropomus leopardus

Common Name(s)

English: Leopard Coral Grouper, Coral Trout, Leopard Coral Trout

Low Risk

Certified to a third party environmental sustainability standard OR Stable and productive low impact fishery with precautionary management, proven effectiveness and confidence that the status will be maintained or further improved. If the stock is data deficient with stable catches.

High Risk

No data available OR Proven poor fishery status and/or high risk of decline to poor status without appropriate management / ineffective management and/or high environmental impact. If species is listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered then stop sourcing.

Traditional Chinese

東星斑, 'Tung Sing Paan'

Simplified Chinese

豹纹鳃棘鲈 / 花斑刺鳃鮨




Cá Mú chấm bé


Pla ka rung


Sunu is Plectropomus spp but P. leopardus is typically Sunu Merah.


Kerapu-sunoh bara.


Saumonée Léopard


Mero Celestial

Date of Assessments

March 2020 (Peer reviewed February 2022)

Peer Reviewer

Dr Neil Loneragan, Murdoch University, Australia

Assessment Organisation

The University of Hong Kong


Grow out of Leopard Coral Trout in net pens can maintain supply at peak times of demand (i.e. Christmas and Chinese New Year), and ensure stable supply throughout the year.



  • Leopard coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) is a widespread species of fish in the Grouper family (Epinephelidae, formerly Serranidae), and found in the Western Pacific Ocean mainly associated with healthy coral reefs.
  • Coral trout juveniles will eat crustaceans, particularly prawns, and the adults feed upon a variety of reef fish.
  • Like many Groupers, coral trout are protogynous hermaphrodites, mostly starting their lives as females and changing sex later in life. Females mature in two to three years at around 22cm, and change sex at an average length of 42cm. In some cases, however, males can develop directly from juveniles which gives this species a ‘dual’ way to produce males.
  • Adult fish aggregate in small groups, up to a few hundreds, around reef slopes to spawn, peaking at full moon. This spawning behaviour (the only time they produce the next generation) occurs in predictable locations at predictable times meaning that fishermen can target the species easily once they discover the aggregation site. This makes leopard coral trout vulnerable to targeted fishing so they might need to have these places protected to safeguard reproduction.
  • FAO estimates global catch of leopardus at around 40,000 tonnes (FAO 2017), though this is a significant underestimate given the unreported catch of most subsistence and small-scale fisheries.
  • The major source countries for international trade in live fish are Indonesia and Philippines; although Malaysia appears to be exporting significant volumes of live fish and it is the most important live reef food fish export from Australia.
  • Dead/chilled/frozen fish are exported from a wider range of countries.
  • Coral trout may be caught by a variety of fishing methods including; hook and line, bottom set long-lines, gillnets, bottom trawls and, for live fish, cyanide (which is illegal and can kill living coral).
  • Fisheries in the Philippines, in particular, and Indonesia also target immature fish and grow them out to market size of 500-1,000cm in floating net pens before export to local hotels and restaurants. This is known as Capture Based Aquaculture, and can rapidly erode the reproductive capacity of the population, if not properly managed, because the immature fish never have the opportunity to mate.

Hook and Line

Hook and line is one of the best methods of fishing with regards to sustainability. This can involve one person and a rod, or alternatively using a basic winch with a line of hooks. The hook and line fishing method has little impact on the surrounding environment and the catch can be selective. For example, any fish too small, or not the right species can be placed back into the water, with limited harm.


A fishing method that uses one or several nets with an otter board to keep the net open horizontally. The net will be towed from the stern of the boat and can be either demersal (on/near sea bed) or pelagic (mid-water). Bottom trawling is a type of trawling that sets the nets on the seafloor. Heavy weights are attached to the nets to stir up the sand or mud so that fish and shrimp living there can be caught. Sometimes heavy rockhoppers are used, chains with roller wheels that allow the net to roll over rough, rocky seabeds without damaging the nets or being stopped by the rock.


A banned fishing method, though nevertheless still used due to lack of enforcement. This involves spraying a sodium cyanide mixture into the water to stun the fish, and used in the collection of fish for the aquarium and live reef fish trade. This practice not only results in higher mortality of the target species, it also damages other marine organisms, including corals. It is not known if there is any human health impact from eating fish that has been caught with cyanide and this is something that needs to be examined.

  • The Latin species name
  • Evidence of the country of origin, vessel flag, and capture method
  • Evidence that fishing vessels are compliant with national regulations
  • Evidence that the Hong Kong importer has complied with trade regulations
  • If the fish is bought live, the seller can provide evidence that the fish was caught using non-destructive fishing methods (i.e. not cyanide)
  • Is the fishery in a fishery improvement project?
If all of this evidence can be obtained, the fishery from which Leopard Coral trout is sourced could be considered to be a lower risk.



  • Leopard coral trout from Australian fisheries can be considered to be a low risk.
  • In Australia this species is mainly caught through hook and line, and some limited selective trawling.
  • Stock assessment data suggests that fisheries management measures in Australia such as size limits, fishing quotas, spatial and seasonal closures are generally effective in conserving local stocks of this species.
  • Leopard coral trout from Indonesian fisheries can be considered to be a high risk.
  •   There is very limited fisheries management, and lack of enforcement. Available data suggests that catch per unit effort is decreasing, with a high proportion of the catch (~50%) consisting of juveniles.
  • Fish are predominantly caught through spearfishing, and handlines. A high proportion of the fish are also caught with cyanide during hookah diving, for the live reef fish trade.
  • Leopard coral trout from the Philippines can be considered to be a high risk.
  • Available data suggests that catches are declining, and although there are management measures in place their effectiveness is unknown. Available data suggests that catch per unit effort is decreasing, with a high proportion of the catch (>70%) consisting of juveniles.
  • In addition to hook and line, cyanide is also widely used.