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Small Pelagic Fishery

Map of Small Pelagic Fishery - from south of Western Australia right around until southern Queensland

Estimated catch: 15,810 tonnes

Stock Status of Target Species

Common name (scientific name)

Latest available status assessment



Fishing mortality


Fishing mortality


Australian sardine (Sardinops sagax)

Blue mackerel, east/west (Scomber australasicus)

Jack mackerel, east/west (Trachurus declivis)

Redbait, east/west (Emmelichthys nitidus

Not subject to overfishing

Not overfished

Not subject to overfishing

Not overfished

Source: Patterson, H, Larcombe, J, Woodhams, J and Curtotti, R 2020, Fishery status reports 2020, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra. CC BY 4.0.

Management Plans/Arrangements

The Small Pelagic Fishery is managed in accordance with the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009. The management arrangements include SFRs, area based catch limits and rules governing the gear that may be used. There were no changes to the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009 in 2019-20.

Analysis of Performance

Harvest Strategy

The Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy was last reviewed in 2017 with its reference points and exploitation rates designed to meet the biological, ecological and economic requirements of the fishery.

The harvest strategy uses Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) surveys to estimate biomass for each of the seven Small Pelagic Fishery stocks. These surveys, along with an annual review of catch and effort data, are used to inform the catch limits set for commercial caught species in the fishery.

The harvest strategy is scheduled for review in 2021 to ensure that it is consistent with the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy.

Performance – sustainability and economic returns

DEPM surveys continue to be updated for the eastern zone stocks, enabling total allowable catches to remain at maximum levels. Most recently, the result of the 2018-19 DEPM for jack mackerel east was considered by the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group and South East Management Advisory and used to inform the 2019-20 total allowable catch for this stock.

A further survey was undertaken in 2019-20 for blue mackerel east and Australian sardines, the results should be available to inform the 2020-21 total allowable catch for each of these stocks.

Due to limited fishing effort, the total allowable catch for the seven target stocks were under-caught in 2019-20. Despite this, the 2019-20 catches were the highest since the 2015-16 fishing season, indicating that incentives to fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery have improved and that GVP and net economic returns have likely improved from previous years.

Performance – status of bycatch

Dolphin interactions are managed under the Small Pelagic Fishery Dolphin Mitigation Strategy. The strategy aims to minimise dolphin interactions in the midwater trawl sector of the fishery by creating incentives for fishers to innovate and adopt best practice to minimise interactions.

The number of dolphin interactions in 2019-20 increased compared to 2018-19 despite best efforts by AFMA and the fishing industry to reduce interactions. AFMA has subsequently funded a pilot project using underwater cameras to observe dolphin behaviour around trawl gear in this fishery. The ultimate aim of this project is to identify areas for further work to improve mitigation to reduce the risk of dolphin interactions. The project is due to be completed in 2020-21.

External Reviews

The Small Pelagic Fishery remains accredited and is approved as a wildlife trade operation under Part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Midwater Trawl sector of the fishery received Marine Stewardship Council Certification in 2019.