The Small Pelagic Fishery is managed by limiting catch taken in the fishery irrespective of the number of size of vessels that fish, and regulating what fishing gear can be used.

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 the operator can take in the fishery.



About the fishery

Target species

Australian sardine (Sardinops sagax)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Blue mackerel east (Scomber australasicus)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Blue mackerel west (Scomber australasicus)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Jack mackerel east (Trachurus declivis)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Jack mackerel, west (Trachurus declivis)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Redbait east (Emmelichthys nitidus)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Redbait west (Emmelichthys nitidus)

image icon of a fishing boat Fishing mortality
Not subject to overfishing
image icon of a fish Biomass
Not overfished

Catch allowance


2019-20 total allowable catch (tonnes)

2020-21 total allowable catch (tonnes)

2021-22 total allowable catch (tonnes)

2022-23 total allowable catch (tonnes)

Australian sardine





Blue mackerel - eastern sub-area





Blue mackerel - western sub-area





Jack mackerel (eastern sub-area)





Jack mackerel (western sub-area)





Redbait - eastern sub-area





Redbait - western sub-area





Catch Data

AFMA publishes annual fishery catch information at Details about individual boat movements and catches are not made public by AFMA because the information is commercially sensitive and releasing it can disadvantage companies against their competitors.

Download raw data on annual catches from AFMA catch disposal records and AFMA daily fishing logbooks.

View historical Small Pelagic Fishery catch data.

Total fishery value

Confidential due to the small number of fishers.

Fishing gear

Midwater trawl, purse seine and jigging and minor line methods are permitted in the SPF. Fishers mainly use midwater trawl and purse seine gear to catch target species.

Read more about midwater trawl, purse seine, jigging and minor line methods.


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

  • Ulladulla (New South Wales)
  • 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 only permitted to catch the amount of quota that they hold and the whole fishery is limited by the total allowable catch that is set each season. Setting quotas is one of the main methods AFMA uses to ensure that fishing for these fish species remains sustainable.

Each year the AFMA Commission sets the total allowable catch in accordance with the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy. The harvest strategy adopts a precautionary approach, providing 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 SPF.

A quota statutory fishing right represents a share or percentage of the total allowable catch allowed in that fishery. Each season a total allowable catch is set for the respective fishery and a proportion of this catch is allocated to fishers based on the number of quota statutory fishing rights they hold. The total allowable catch is set in tonnes. It may vary from season to season depending on how much fish can be sustainably caught. The more statutory fishing rights a fisher holds, the greater the proportion of the catch they can take but all fishers combined can not take more than the total allowable catch.

Collecting data

Data about the catch and effort of the fishery is collected in electronic logbooks (e-logs) or paper logbooks fishers must 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 2020-21 fishing season leave 88.4 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 2020):

  • 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 and 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 (ERM) 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.

The ERM framework was independently reviewed in 2014 and a new ERM guide was released in 2017 which introduces the use of Fishery Management Strategies (FMS) for each Commonwealth managed fishery.

The FMS incorporates previously existing fishery management strategies (i.e. harvest strategies, ecological risk management strategies, bycatch strategies, research strategies and data strategies) into a single document. The FMS makes the management objectives and processes more transparent, outlining the results from risk/stock assessments (and other information) and the management actions and processes required to achieve ERM and other key fishery management objectives. The FMS for the SPF is currently being developed.

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

See the ERM strategies for Commonwealth commercial fisheries page for further information for further information on the revised framework.

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
  • the SPF Dolphin Mitigation Strategy
  • reporting requirements.

Go to the Small Pelagic Fishery Bycatch and Discard Workplan.

The SPF Bycatch and Discard workplan is currently being reviewed and is due to be completed mid 2021.

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.

View the Small Pelagic Fishery Harvest Strategy.

Export approval

To export from an Australian commercial fishery, the fishery must be accredited by the Department of Agriculture, Water and 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 Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

More information about marine reserves can be found on the Parks Australia website.

Protected Species Interactions

All fishers are required to report in their logbooks if they have an interaction with a threatened, endangered or protected species.

AFMA publishes all threatened, endangered and protected species in Commonwealth fisheries on a quarterly basis – under Protected species interaction reports on

Fishing in the fishery

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

Rules and regulations for boats in the SPF include:

  • being fitted with a GPS tracking system to allow AFMA to track a boats location in ‘real time’ (known as a Vessel Monitoring System or VMS)
  • electronic monitoring (including cameras) and/or independent observers as required by AFMA to monitor their fishing practices
  • using equipment to reduce interactions with wildlife, such as barrier nets and excluder devices to minimise risks to seals and dolphins, and tori lines, bafflers and offal management to minimise risks to seabirds
  • completing catch and effort elog/books
  • having to land all catch in Australia
  • only being able to sell to a licenced Commonwealth fish receiver
  • compliance officers routinely inspecting catch and log books when vessels return to port.

To operate in a Commonwealth fishery, a boat must be an Australian boat. All vessels of more than 130 metres in length have been permanently banned from fishing in Commonwealth waters.

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 Determination 2021

Overcatch and undercatch determination

Small Pelagic Fishery (Overcatch and Undercatch) Determination 2021


Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery and Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction 2021 

Harvest strategy

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


The minimum level of observer coverage is:

  • 10 per cent of days fished in the fishery for purse seine
  • 10 per cent of days fished in the fishery for midwater trawl.

New boats that enter the fishery are required to have observers for the first five trips for purse seine boats and the first 10 trips for midwater trawl boats. These levels may be adjusted depending on the need for data requirements. Operators are required to carry an AFMA Observer when directed to do so by AFMA.

All midwater trawl vessels are required to have an operational electronic monitoring system.


Mid-water trawl boats in the SPF are subject to a range of closures in place primarily to protect Australian sea lions. These closures are enforced through the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery and Small Pelagic Fishery (Closures) Direction 2021, and the Vessel Management Plans.

Spatial Management

Spatial management, in the form of a regional catch limit applies to all methods fishing in the SPF combined. This rule requires boats to ‘move on’ if the catch taken in a one degree grid (~60 nm blocks), in a rolling 30 day period reaches 2,000 tonnes (all species combined).

While the risk of localised depletion is low, this rule aims to further reduce any risk as a precautionary measure. The SPF Resource Assessment Group continue to monitor for evidence of localised depletion with no trends evident to date.

Catch Triggers

Due to limited information on the stock structure of Jack Mackerel West, if catch in the grids south of Kangaroo Island (G54 and G55) reach 20 per cent of the TAC (830 tonnes) this area will be closed to fishing for the rest of the fishing year.

Catch will continue to be restricted to 20 per cent of the TAC in these grids as a precautionary measure until more is known about the stock structure of jack mackerel west in this area.

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 SPF, 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 SPF 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 having recreational fishing member positions on its Resource Assessment Groups and Management Advisory Committees. AFMA may also undertake targeted consultation of individuals or recreational fishing groups on an issue by issue basis including holding broader recreational fishing forums.

Government departments

AFMA works closely with other government departments, such as the Department of Agriculture, Water and 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

As for other stakeholders, AFMA engages with environmental non-government organisations via membership on Resource Assessment Groups and Management Advisory Committees. AFMA may also undertake targeted consultation of individuals or e-NGO groups on an issue by issue basis including holding broader environmental forums as required. 

Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group

After a two-year trial of a Scientific Panel and Forum in the SPF, the AFMA Commission decided to return to a more conventional RAG model for obtaining scientific and economic advice regarding this fishery from June 2019 onwards.

See a summary of the 61st AFMA Commission meeting which include the Commission’s rationale on this decision

See the SPF Scientific Panel and SPF Stakeholder Forum webpages for previous meeting minutes and papers.

See the Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the committee.

Management publications

Environment publications

Research and data publications

Research Plans

Species summaries

Harvest Strategy supporting research / Management Strategy Evaluation

Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) surveys

Annual Fishery Assessment Reports

Broader Impacts of the SPF on the Environment



SPF map

Area closure

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.