Spanish mackerel stock report ‘imminent’ as stakeholders fear future of fishery


The Spanish mackerel fishery off Australia’s east coast has been seriously mismanaged and urgent action is needed to allow stocks to rebuild, a seasoned fishing expert has warned.

A preliminary stock assessment released in April estimated that the species’ east coast population could represent as little as 17 percent of pristine stocks, well below the sustainable level of 60 percent.

A spokesperson for Fisheries Queensland confirmed that a peer review has since been carried out in the stock assessment, but no specific date for its publication has been set.

In a statement, Agriculture Industry Development and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner called the release of the stock assessment “imminent,” but did not address concerns about the time needed for the stock to be released. its publication.

Spanish mackerel schools on the east coast are angled from southern Torres Strait to northern New South Wales, most of which are commercially fished north of Townsville.

The East Coast Spanish Mackerel Working Group consists of four representatives from the commercial fishery as well as three recreational representatives, one from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and one from the conservation sector, the rest from the government and research sectors.

Local, wild Spanish mackerel is the best seafood for fish and chips and is a bestseller at most takeout companies in Queensland.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

At the inaugural meeting in April, a group statement issued by the ministry said “meaningful” intervention was urgently needed.

The group agreed that several meetings should be held to begin consultations on the fishery changes this year, but a second meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) campaign manager Simon Miller said recent trends suggested the species was in serious trouble and called on the government to release the data urgently.

“We don’t want to see another case of what happened with the scallop fishery where science said stocks needed to be rebuilt but there was a delay before urgent management action was taken. “said Miller.

Critical stock levels

Despite the debate over the stock assessment model, former James Cook University fishery researcher and seafood retailer Andrew Tobin said the preliminary figure likely accurately reflected the decline in stocks.

“It’s certainly not healthy, the big question is whether it’s 17%,” he said.

National fishing regulations set the goal of maintaining population stocks at 60% of the number estimated before large-scale commercial fishing began in 1911.

Dr Tobin said a quota for Spanish mackerel was introduced in 2004-05 with a trade limit of 619 tonnes, which had not yet been reached despite a slight reduction.

A man and a lady holding two platters of seafood in a fish and chips
Fisheries researcher Andrew Tobin said the regulation of recreational fishing by Fisheries Queensland was “third world”. (ABC Rural: Tom Major )

“Commercial fisheries have only ever caught about 50% of their allotted quota: for most people that should sound the alarm bells, but Fisheries Queensland has never stopped asking ‘why? “”

A previous stock assessment based on a 2016 study characterized the fishery as sustainable with populations between 30 and 50 percent of the unfished biomass.

But the report said pressure on spawning fish in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had made some aggregations unsustainable for commercial fishermen to target.

Economically critical catch

Spanish mackerel is highly sought after by Queensland fish and chip retailers and restaurateurs for its firm, white flesh.

Cairns wholesaler and retailer Stephen Parsons says half of his business is filleting and processing Spanish mackerel, much of which is sold to fishmongers along the coast.

man holding fish fillets
Stephen Parsons says the industry deserves more information on the apparent collapse in Spanish mackerel stocks.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

“This is a multi-million dollar business and people’s jobs are at risk, we need to know if the season will be here next year.”

Mr Parsons said an alternative to Spanish mackerel for fish and chips could be imported fillets of hake from New Zealand or South Africa.

Unknown pressures

In addition to the commercial harvest, the unknown quantity of fish caught by recreational fishermen is of concern to many in the industry.

Many fishermen have also reported shark depredation, where bulldog sharks have learned to follow boats and easily feed on angled mackerel before being landed.

The man brings a Spanish mackerel to the side of a boat.
The east coast Spanish mackerel quota has changed little since the initial cap of 619 tonnes was established in 2004.(Provided: Thomas Fowler)

Dr Tobin said the Queensland government’s refusal to quantify and manage the pressure from recreational fishing through a licensing system had hampered the data sets available.

“There are all kinds of surveys that they do to map participation and that they use to defend their position on recreational fishing, but they are definitely at the third world level when you consider the information on the fishery. recreational fishing in Queensland, ”he said.

Eric Perez, managing director of the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, joined calls for the urgent publication of the stock assessment and said the delay created uncertainty for professional and amateur fishermen.

“I can’t blame any industry for this situation until we have seen the science. We are all fighting the shadows until we have seen the document,” he said.

Solutions needed

The century-old commercial fishery has focused on breeding grounds where breeding fish were targeted during mating.

Other Queensland fisheries such as coral finfish have been subject to fishing bans at times when researchers believe they are likely to spawn.

“Spawning closures are a useful tool; they may well play an active role in restoring the Spanish mackerel population,” said Dr Tobin.

CASI activist Simon Miller said Fisheries Queensland took four to five years from the first scallop scallop alarm to make significant changes in 2021 to rebuild that fishery.

“I certainly don’t want this to happen to the Spanish mackerel, which is why the working group and the stakeholders need to work together urgently,” he said.


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