The Small Pelagic Fishery is managed by limiting the catch, restricting how many boats can fish and regulating what gear they can use.

To fish in this fishery, operators must hold statutory fishing rights that allow them to catch the fish species that are under a quota. The quota limits the amount of fish that boats can take in the fishery.

About the fishery

Target species

Australian sardine (Sardinops sagax)

Australian sardine

Blue mackerel (Scomber australasicus)

Blue mackerel

Redbait (Emmelichthys nitidus)

Redbait (east)
Redbait (west)

Catch allowance

Species 2015-16 total allowable catch (tonnes) 2016-17 total allowable catch (tonnes) 2017-18 total allowable catch (tonnes) 2018-19 total allowable catch (tonnes)
Australian sardine 1880 1880 9550 9510
Blue mackerel - eastern sub-area 2630 2630 12090 12090
Blue mackerel - western sub-area 6200 6200 3230 3230
Jack mackerel (eastern sub-area) 18670 18670 18880 18890
Jack mackerel (western sub-area) 3600 3600 920 4190
Redbait - eastern sub-area 3310 3310 3410 3420
Redbait - western sub-area 2880 2880 820 820
Download raw data on annual catches from AFMA catch disposal records and AFMA daily fishing logbooks.

View Small Pelagic Fishery catch data for the 2015-16 fishing season.

Total fishery value

Confidential due to the small number of fishers.

Fishing gear

Fishers mainly use midwater trawl and purse seine gear to catch target species.

Read more about midwater trawl and purse seine.


The Small Pelagic Fishery extends from the Queensland/New South Wales border, typically outside 3 nm, around southern Australia to a line at latitude 31° south (near Lancelin, north of Perth).

The fishery is divided into two sub areas, east and west of latitude 146°30’ due to evidence of separate stocks both east and west of Tasmania for jack mackerel, blue mackerel and redbait.

Major landing ports

  • Geelong (Victoria)
  • Iluka (New South Wales)

Markets supplied

  • Domestic and international for human consumption, bait for recreational fishing and fishmeal for aquaculture

Fishing season

12 month season, beginning on 1 May.

Management of catch

This fishery is managed under a quota system that limits the amount of fish that boats can take in the fishery. Under this system, each fisher is limited to catching up to the amount of quota that they hold and the whole fishery is limited to the total allowable catch that is set each season. Setting quotas is one of the main methods AFMA uses to ensure these fish species remain sustainable.

Each year the AFMA Commission decides on the total allowable catch using information provided by the fishery manager, industry members and scientists.

A number of sources are used to determine the total allowable catch. For example, the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy adopts a precautionary approach to provide three tiers of assessment for setting a total allowable catch.  The tiers are based on the level of information known about a stock; a higher potential catch applies when more information is known about the stock.

Licence to fish

Fishers need to hold statutory fishing rights allocated by AFMA to fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Statutory fishing rights allow fishers to fish catch the fish species that are under a quota. Statutory fishing rights are transferable between fishers.

In this fishery there are currently:

  • 61 047 305 quota statutory fishing rights.

Collecting data

Data about the catch and effort of the fishery is collected from the logbooks fishers fill out for every fishing shot.

Logbooks record:

  • the species and amount caught
  • catch that is discarded
  • the catch/release of any protected species and their life status
  • set and haul times of each shot
  • the location of each shot
  • the type and amount of gear used.

Species sustainability

Total catch limits for the 2018-19 fishing season leave 90.9 per cent of the combined estimated biomass of SPF stocks in the water for the marine environment and other uses such as recreational fishing.

Australia (ABARES 2017):

  • Australian sardine – not overfished and not subject to overfishing
  • Jack mackerel – not overfished and not subject to overfishing
  • Blue mackerel – not overfished and not subject to overfishing
  • Redbait – not overfished but not subject to overfishing.

Species risk assessments

AFMA regularly monitor the effects fishing activities have on marine species, habitats and communities through ecological risk assessments. The assessment results help to prioritise the management, research, data collection and monitoring needs for the fishery.

After the risk assessment is complete, an ecological risk management strategy is developed to address how AFMA will manage marine species, habitats and communities identified in the assessment as greatly impacted by commercial fishing operations.

Go to the assessment and strategy for the Small Pelagic Fishery.

Bycatch work plans

The Small Pelagic Fishery Bycatch and Discarding Workplan outlines ways to minimise the bycatch of species that are at a high risk of being caught as bycatch in the fishery. These species can include threatened, endangered and protected species, sharks and other non-target fish species.


Several measures to reduce bycatch and manage the risk from both mid-water trawl and purse seine methods are in place, including:

  • observer coverage
  • the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Purse Seine Code of Practice
  • reporting requirements.

Go to the Small Pelagic Fishery Bycatch and Discard Workplan.

Harvest strategy

A harvest strategy is used to help determine what the quota should be for the target species of the fishery. Fishing, environmental and economic information is included in the harvest strategy, which helps to monitor and maintain the sustainability of the targeted species.

All harvest strategies are developed in line with the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines.

Go to the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy.

Export approval

To export from an Australian commercial fishery, the fishery must be accredited by the Department of the Environment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Marine reserves

Commonwealth marine reserves are areas established under Australian environment law to help conserve the spectacular marine life in our oceans. They allow ecologically sustainable use of our marine resources and provide special places for people to enjoy and appreciate the fantastic diversity of our marine habitats.

Marine reserves are sometimes known as marine protected areas or marine parks and are managed by the Department of the Environment.

More information about marine reserves can be found on the Department of the Environment website.

Fishing in the fishery

Fishing operators wanting to fish in the Small Pelagic Fishery must hold quota statutory fishing rights for all target species in the fishery.

Download a copy of the Small Pelagic Fishery Management Arrangements Booklet  for a full description of all fishing requirements in the fishery.

Fishery legislation

Management plan

The Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009 came into effect in the SPF on 2 November 2009.

Total allowable catch determination

Small Pelagic Fishery Total Allowable Catch (Quota Species) Determination 2018

Overcatch and undercatch determination

Small Pelagic Fishery Overcatch and Undercatch Determination 2018


Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery and Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction 2016 (as of May 1)

Harvest strategy

The objective of the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy is to allow sustainable and profitable utilisation of quota managed species in the Small Pelagic Fishery (jack mackerel, blue mackerel, redbait and Australian sardine).

We recognise that fisheries management involves a broad range of stakeholders.

Here are just a few ways we are working with our stakeholders, who include industry, scientists, recreational fishers, environmental groups and the community for an informed approach to fisheries management.

Fishing industry

In making decisions, AFMA Management considers the views of individual industry members, industry associations and advisory groups that have industry members. AFMA engages with the fishing industry regularly and ensures that the most up to date on the water experience is available for the continued management of the fishery.

South East Management Advisory Committee

The South East Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) is the key management advisory body for the Small Pelagic Fishery, Gillnet Hook and Trap Sector, South Eastern Trawl Sector and Southern Squid Fishery. SEMAC includes representatives from AFMA, scientific agencies, environmental non-government organisations, the recreational/charter fishing sector and state government.

SEMAC holds 4-5 meetings per year to discuss and provide advice on the management of these fisheries to AFMA.

See the South East Management Advisory Committee webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the committee.

Recreational fishers

Some of the fish species caught by commercial fishers in the Small Pelagic Fishery are of importance to the recreational fishing sector. While recreational fishing is managed by the respective state governments, AFMA does consult with this sector a number of ways and takes into account the impacts of commercial fishing by Commonwealth fishers on all aspects of the marine environment, including recreational fishing species. AFMA consults the recreational sector by:

  • holding 2 to 3 recreational fishing forums annually
  • engaging through the Small Pelagic Fishery Scientific Panel and stakeholder forums

Government departments

AFMA works closely with other government departments, such as the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of the Environment. They help in providing advice and guidance on both domestic and international fisheries issues.

State governments

The Australian state governments generally manage fishing from the Australian coast out to 3 nautical miles. Occasionally there is some overlap in fishing operations between the state and commonwealth jurisdictions and AFMA regularly communicates with the state fisheries agencies to manage any problems.

Representatives from the state fisheries agencies also attend the South East Management Advisory Committee.

Environmental non-government organisations

Representatives from environmental non-government organisations are engaged through several forums to provide advice on research and management issues in the Small Pelagic Fishery.

  • holding 2 to 3 environmental forums annually.
  • appointing representatives on South East Management Advisory Committee.
  • engaging through the Small Pelagic Fishery Scientific Panel and stakeholder forums

Small Pelagic Fishery Scientific Panel

The Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF) Scientific Panel provides scientific and economic advice on the status of fish stocks, substocks, species (target and non-target species), the impact of fishing on the marine environment and application of the harvest strategy and harvest control rules adopted by the Commission for this fishery.

The Scientific Panel member’s consist of experienced generalist fisheries scientists, marine ecologists and natural resource management economists. The Scientific Panel members were appointed on 1 December 2015 for a trial period of two years.

See the SPF Scientific Panel webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes.

The Scientific Panel together with the SPF stakeholder forums replace the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group. See the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group page for a summary of their previous discussions and outcomes.

Small Pelagic Fishery Stakeholder Forum

The Scientific Panel is required to seek advice from stakeholders to ensure its advice to the Commission is sound, well-founded and takes account of stakeholder’s views and experience. Small Pelagic Fishery stakeholder forums provide interested stakeholders with the opportunity to consider and discuss the scientific advice of the Scientific Panel.

See the SPF Stakeholder Forum webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the forums.

Management publications

Small Pelagic Fishery Management Arrangements Booklet 2018-19

Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy

Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009

Small Pelagic Fishery Dolphin Mitigation Strategy

Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Purse Seine Code of Practice

Environment publications

Ecological risk management reports

Small Pelagic Fishery Bycatch and Discard Workplan

Research and data publications

Spawning biomass of Jack Mackerel and Sardine between western Kangaroo Island, South Australia and south-western Tasmania (PDF, 2MB)

Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2017 – May 2018 (PDF, 5 MB)

Small Pelagic Fishery Annual Research Statement 2018-19 (PDF, 241KB)

Small Pelagic Fishery five year Strategic Research Plan 2017-18 to 2021-22 (PDF, 71KB)

Final Report – 2015-035 – Critical knowledge gaps: estimating potential maximum cumulative anthropogenic mortality limits of key marine mammal species to inform management 

Small Pelagic Research Coordination Program: Technical workshop to explore options for mitigating marine mammal interactions in the Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 668 KB)

Summer spawning patterns and preliminary DEPM survey of jack mackerel and Australian sardine off the East Coast 2015 (PDF, 2 MB)

Assessment for Eastern Blue Mackerel 2016 (PDF, 288KB)

Jack mackerel stock structure in the SPF 2015 (PDF, 4.3 MB)

CSIRO review of harvest strategy for the Small Pelagic Fishery 2015  (PDF, 3.6 MB)

2013 Fishery Assessment Report – Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 3 MB)

2011-13 Fishery Assessment Report – Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 3 MB)

Small Pelagic Fishery: General background to the scientific issues (PDF, 674 KB)

Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2012 – July 2013 (PDF, 4 MB)

Simulation analysis of jack mackerel stock sizes 2013 (PDF, 3.3 MB)

Comments on using DEPM to estimate the spawning biomass of jack mackerel 2013 (PDF, 390 KB)

Re-analysis of DEPM in jack mackerel 2012 (PDF, 53 KB)

Application of DEPM to estimate biomass of jack mackerel (Neira 2011) (PDF, 2 MB)

Pelagic fishes, sharks, and climate change 2009 (PDF, 223 KB)

Review of the draft Harvest Strategy for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 1 MB)

Dolphin and seal interactions with mid-water trawling in the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery, including an assessment of bycatch mitigation 2008 (PDF, 1.18 MB)

Monitoring marine mammal interactions in the Small Pelagic Fishery: Stage one pilot study, October 2005 (PDF, 286 KB)

Small Pelagic Fishery – Purse Seine Scientific Observer Manual (PDF, 1 MB)


SFR conversions calculator for the SPF

SPF map

Fishery closure map

Mid-water trawl closures as of 1 May 2016

AFMA uses many methods to monitor the compliance of fishing activities and collect data on fish stocks. These include:

Onboard observers

One of the main monitoring methods used by AFMA is onboard scientific observers. These observers are people employed by AFMA to go out on boats and independently record the catch, effort and biological information of each fishing trip.

They take samples from fish, such as the otoliths or ear bones, and use these to determine the age of the fish caught.

Observers also record the length, weight and sex of each fish caught during a trip and report on the other wildlife that may be seen, the weather conditions, the composition of commercial catch fate of species that are caught as bycatch.

Boats in the fishery must carry an AFMA observer when requested by AFMA.

Read more about the Observer program.

Satellite tracking

A satellite monitoring system called a Vessel Monitoring System or VMS for short, is fitted to each concession holders boat. This system helps AFMA to monitor vessel position, course and speed. The tracking unit regularly transmits the information through a communications satellite to a land earth station. This information is sent by secure internet connection to a database at AFMA.

Read more about our satellite tracking program.

Cameras on fishing boats – electronic monitoring

AFMA has electronic monitoring systems on some fishing boats. These systems have sensors linked to surveillance cameras that record fishing activity such as the impacts of some fishing methods on protected species. These recordings can then be collected and monitored by AFMA. Electronic monitoring gives fishers a cost effective way to support monitoring and data collection.

Read more about our electronic monitoring program.