Helping sand flathead recover

Over 98% of sand flathead taken in Tasmania has been caught by recreational fishers.

With the statewide ban on commercial take of sand flathead through the Scalefish Rules Review, the recovery of Tasmania's favourite recreational fish species is in the hands of the recreational fishing community.

Every fisher can make a difference in how quickly sand flathead recover by following the actions below.

Know your flathead species

Sand flathead is not the only flathead species in Tasmania. When fishing for sand flathead, you might also catch tiger flathead or bluespotted flathead, and different rules apply to each of these species.

In some areas of Tasmania, you might also catch rock flathead.

Watch the video or check out the images below to learn some of the key features that identify different flathead species.

Sand and tiger flathead ID 
Bluespotted and rock ID 

Tiger flathead can also be distinguished from other flathead species by their large teeth.
Tiger flathead teeth 

Release sand flathead with care

If handled responsibly, sand flathead have very high survival rates when caught and released.

You can improve the survival of sand flathead you release by:

  • Using barbless or circle hooks
  • Using a dehooker to quickly release fish that aren't legal size
  • Handling flathead with a wet cloth
  • Minimising the amount of time fish are out of the water

If a flathead is gut-hooked, cut the line and leave the hook in place. Attempting to remove the hook can harm the fish more than leaving the hook in place.


Dont give sand flathead the boot 

Change what fish you bring home

Sand flathead is a popular recreational fish species because it is easy to catch from shore or boat and is great  eating. But there are other Tasmanian fish that fit this bill and have healthier, more sustainable stocks than sand flathead.

Next time you go fishing, consider giving sand flathead a break and try taking home some of these fish instead.

Gurnard


If you've fished for flathead, you've likely caught a gurnard before. They live in the same habitat as sand flathead and can be caught on the same bait and rig. But don't let the spikes fool you - handle this fish right and you've got a great addition to the dinner table.

Watch the video below to learn how to best fillet a gurnard.

 


Gurnard flesh is white, firm and good eating when filleted and skinned. It has a medium flavour with low oil content and is suitable to bake, barbecue, shallow or deep fry, foil bake, grill, poach or steam. Check out the gurnard species page for some great gurnard recipes.

Australian salmon

australian salmon rig

Australian salmon travel in schools close to the coastline and are caught off rocky headlands, in large estuaries and bays, offshore, in breakwaters and from surf beaches in holes and gutters. They can be caught all year round in Tasmania with January to April the most popular season.

To catch Australian salmon, you'll need to switch your rig. Australian salmon are caught using trolled lures, flies, soft plastics and a variety of baits. They are strong fighters on light gear and once hooked, will often break the surface to throw the hook.

This fish has a distinctive flavour and a high oil content. Its dark flesh has a firm texture and lightens when cooked. It's suitable to bake, barbeque, grill, fry or use in soup. Eating qualities are improved by killing and bleeding the fish directly after capture.

Check out the Australian salmon species page for some Australian salmon recipes.

Mackerel

Blue mackerel occur in coastal and pelagic waters. Adults are found in large schools off the continental shelf margins while small animals are often found inshore.

They can be caught on a wide variety of baits including fish, raw chicken, squid and small baitfish.  They will also take small flies and soft plastic or artificial lures set up to resemble a small fish.

Mackerel is a fish that is becoming increasingly valued for its eating qualities because of its high oil content.  Blue mackerel have delicate, clear to iridescent flesh when fresh and are favoured smoked or as sashimi style. The fish must be bled promptly to improve flesh quality.‚Äč

Leatherjacket

 

Leatherjacket are common in Tasmania around coastal reefs in depths from 0-20 metres.

Use small long-shanked hooks on light line with prawns for bait to target these fish. They will also take soft plastics and lures and are known for nibbling at the bait.

The flesh is good eating if fish are cleaned and skinned shortly after capture. It is fine textured, moist and sweet. It is delicious simply pan fried in butter, but adapts well to other cooking methods such as baking, barbequing, poaching and grilling. They are good baked or grilled whole with the head removed and wrapped in foil to prevent them drying out. The firm flesh works well minced for fish cakes and fish balls and holds together well in curries and soups.

Check out the leatherjacket species page for some leatherjacket recipes.

Mullet

Mullet rig.jpg

Mullet can usually be found over sandy bottom around beaches, estuaries, jetties and rocks adjacent to sandy areas.

They provide good rod and line sport when caught on light fishing gear with small hooks fished under a float.

The flesh of this species has one of the highest sources of omega 3 oil. It has a distinctive flavour with oily but firm-textured flesh suitable to bake, barbeque, pan fry or grill. To further improve the eating qualities of this fish, it is recommended that the black stomach lining be removed prior to cooking as it may cause the flesh to become bitter.

Check out the mullet species page for recipes.

Fish the FADs

If you're a boat based fisher, why not try your hand at fishing one of the 14 fish aggregating devices (FADs) across the north, east and southeast coasts?

FADs attract pelagic fish, including tunas, sharks, marlin and yellowtail kingfish. Find your nearest FAD.

How the new sand flathead rules help

Bag and possession limit reductions

We need to catch and keep significantly fewer sand flathead for the species to recover, and reduced bag and possession limits are the main way to achieve this.

However, the new bag limits only reduce catches on fishing trips where fishers would otherwise have caught more fish. According to the Recreational Fishing Survey, fishers kept less than 10 sand flathead on 75% of fishing trips where sand flathead were caught and kept. On half of these trips, only five or less sand flathead were kept.

You can view how different bag limits around the state impact the total number of fish kept on the IMAS Sand Flathead Bag Limit Scenarios site.

Minimum and maximum size limits

The minimum size limit has increased to 35 cm statewide, and a maximum size limit of 40 cm has been introduced for all waters except King and Flinders Islands. A maximum and minimum size limit is sometimes called a 'slot limit' since only fish that fall within the slot between the maximum and minimum size limit can be kept.

A slot limit was introduced to address signs of genetic stunting in sand flathead, which has led to small, slow growing fish becoming more common in the population. If left unaddressed, genetic stunting could lead to 'dwarf' populations of sand flathead that no longer grow to large sizes. Maximum size limits protect the larger, faster growing fish so they can continue to contribute to future generations of sand flathead, preventing ongoing genetic stunting.

Regional rules

The bag and size limits for sand flathead now change depending on where you are fishing. These regional rules were introduced to reflect that the condition of sand flathead stocks, and the amount of fishing pressure sand flathead are exposed to, is different in different parts of the state.

In places with less fishing pressure, stocks are in better condition, so less significant rule changes were required. Other regions, like the heavily fished sourthern bays and estuaries, required significant catch reductions to allow sand flathead in these areas to recover.

When you are fishing for sand flathead, make sure you know the rules that apply for the region that you are in.

Report illegal fishing

You can report illegal fishing to Tasmania Police via Fishwatch.




    Hotline

    Fishwatch Report illegal fishing

    0427 655 557

    What to report? arrow button

    Contact us

    Recreational Fishing

    Level 3, 134 Macquarie St

    Hobart TAS 7000

    Phone: (03) 6165 3233, 1300 720 647

    Email: fishing.enquiries@nre.tas.gov.au

    Commercial Fisheries

    Level 3, 134 Macquarie St

    GPO Box 44

    Phone: (03) 6165 3000, 1300 368 550

    Email: commercial.fisheries@nre.tas.gov.au

    Commercial Fisheries Licensing

    Level 1, 134 Macquarie St

    GPO Box 44

    Phone: (03) 6165 3000, 1300 368 550

    Email: fishing.licensing@nre.tas.gov.au