Based on the fisheries stock assessments by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), we know that some of our favourite scalefish species are really struggling.
Here's a check-in (and a bit of the science) on what's going on with these species, and how the proposals in the Scalefish Rules Review aim to address some of the problems these fisheries are facing.
Sand flathead - Depleted
For the first time, sand flathead stocks have been classified as depleted. Ninety-eight percent of sand flathead are caught by recreational fishers, and there is too much fishing in many areas around Tasmania for sand flathead stocks to be able to replenish themselves - up to 4x too much in some areas.
Biomass of mature females and the number of eggs females produce before dying are also below the critical levels for sustainability in most regions due to overfishing.
The commercial fishery for sand flathead is very small – the vast majority of commercial flathead fishers target tiger flathead, not sand flathead.
Sand flathead stocks have been depleting since they were first formally assessed in 2015. Increasing the legal size from 30cm to 32cm in the 2015 scalefish review saw some temporary recovery. However, continued overfishing has prevented any long term stock recovery.
Fishing on sand flathead has to be reduced if we want to be able to keep catching Tasmania’s favourite fish in the future. We have proposed changes to the Scalefish Rules to help recover this fishery going forward, and we want you to have your say on these proposals as part of public consultation.
You can read more about what’s happening with sand flathead stocks, and how we are working to help them
on the Flathead for the Future page.
Calamari - Depleting
is one of the most popular fish species for commercial and recreational
fishers. It’s usually fished around spawning time, where large groups
make it easier to catch. But because calamari only live for one year or
less, overfishing before or during spawning can significantly affect
what can be caught the following year. Fishing spawning groups also
leaves calamari at risk of something called ‘hyperstability’- where
catch might remain stable, even if the fishery isn't doing well.
seasonal closures during parts of the calamari spawning season,
calamari are not doing well. There is too much fishing, particularly on
the north coast, where catch has started to show significant
variability, including sharp drops even with more fishing effort. If the
amount of fishing does not change, there are concerns that the north
coast calamari fishery will follow the path of the south coast stocks –
some of which have been depleted and might not return to earlier levels.
2017/18, recreational fishers caught approximately a third of calamari,
with the rest caught by commercial fishers. But the calamari fishery
has changed a lot since then, and it’s likely the recreational catch has
To find the best path forward for the calamari fishery, we've formally gathered community feedback
twice in the past. This included hearing feedback on recreational catch
limits, commercial trip limits and further limiting commercial fishing
licences. Proposed managment changes were developed from this feedback,
and you can now have your say on them as part of the Scalefish Rules Review.
Striped trumpeter - Depleted
Striped trumpeter stocks have been depleted since 2000/01. The biggest challenge facing this fish is how variable recruitment success can be. The current minimum size limit for striped
trumpeter is below the size where they start breeding. This means that
fish are being caught before they have had the chance to spawn and
contribute to the next generation. For a long time, there was no sign of any significant number of new fish in the population, despite a seaonal closure for spawning introduced in 2009.
This changed in the 2017/18 stock assessment, when new, younger fish were seen for the first time, leading to hopes the stock should be recovering. But there’s been no sign since then that the population is doing better. New methods introduced in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 stock assessments indicate that fishing pressure in the south-east coast region is too high to allow for recovery. Some stocks in other regions (including the west coast region) are likely to be a bit better, but there isn’t currently enough data for a robust assessment of stock status in all regions.
Recreational fishers are playing an increasingly important role in the striped trumpeter fishery, accounting for 67% of total catch in 2017/18.
Bastard trumpeter – Depleted
Trends in commercial and recreational catches of bastard trumpeter suggest its population is at historically low levels. Bastard trumpeter catch is split relatively evenly between recreational and commercial fishers. Commercial fishers most often catch them as by-catch of the banded morwong fishery, while recreational fishers largely catch bastard trumpeter by netting.
Changes to bag, possession and size limits (recreational) and trip limits (commercial) were introduced in 2009. However, bastard trumpeter stocks today are still depleted and are not showing any sign of recovery. Like striped trumpeter, bastard trumpeter has a lot of variability in recruitment success, and the size limit for the species is currently below when they start reproducing, further affecting the ability of this stock to recover. The phasing out of recreational netting by 2030 in addition to other management action will benefit this species.
The first step of this phase out of gillnets is amongst the changes being proposed in the Scalefish Rules Review.
Southern garfish - Depleted
The southern garfish fishery is largely commercial with a very small recreational catch. The fishery was first assessed as depleting in 2006/07 and has been classified as depleted since 2017/18 following declines in catch despite significant fishing effort. Southern garfish are a schooling fish, meaning that like calamari, they are vulnerable to hyperstability. Southern garfish are also short-lived, so their population at any given time is highly dependent on recent breeding success.
Seasonal spawning closures for the commercial sector in 2009 saw some population recovery, but it was short-lived. The spawning closure was extended to recreational fishers in 2023 as an added action to help the stock.
Blue warehou – Depleted
Blue warehou is a Commonwealth assessed species, and stocks have been in poor condition since the early 2000s. This is mostly due to significant overfishing in the 1990’s by the Commonwealth trawl fishery. The species is primarily caught and managed by the Commonwealth, but there is also a small State fishery, which has seen a significant catch decline in recent years. Despite Commonwealth and Tasmanian management measures, there has been no evidence of stock recovery.
This species is particularly at risk from gillnetting because blue warehou often don't survive after being released from gillnets. This makes effectively managing blue warehou catch challenging. Size limits and bag limits cannot be effectively applied to catch from gillnets for this fish, since the blue warehou are unlikely to survive in good enough condition to be released. However, as part of the commitments of the Recreational Fishing Strategy, the use of gillnets is being phased out, which may benefit this species. Like southern garfish, blue warehou are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are a schooling fish.
Jackass morwong – Depleted (Commonwealth assessment)
Jackass Morwong has recently been assessed as depleted by the Commonwealth, which manages and assesses this species. The state catch of jackass morwong is relatively small with about two thirds coming from recreational fishers and one third from the commercial fishery .
In the most recent Commonwealth stock assessment by CSIRO, the stock was assessed as depleted – and this will be reflected in the upcoming IMAS stock assessment.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has introduced management actions for the Commonwealth trawl fishery, including significantly reduced total allowable catches and planned closures. Although the Tasmanian catch of jackass morwong is low compared to the Commonwealth catch, management is needed across both sectors to ensure fishery sustainability.
Scalefish Rules Review
Management changes for each of these depleting and depleted species have been proposed as part of the Scalefish Rules Review. You can read about the proposed changes, public consultation sessions, how to have your say and more on the Scalefish Fishery Rule Changes page. Public consultaion is open until midnight 29 May.