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
2019-20 total allowable catch (tonnes)
2020-21 total allowable catch (tonnes)
2021-22 total allowable catch (tonnes)
2022-23 total allowable catch (tonnes)
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
AFMA publishes annual fishery catch information at data.gov.au. 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.
Total fishery value
Confidential due to the small number of fishers.
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.
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)
- Domestic and international for human consumption, bait for recreational fishing and fishmeal for aquaculture
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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 .
The SPF Bycatch and Discard workplan is currently being reviewed and is due to be completed mid 2021.
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 .
View the .
To export from an Australian commercial fishery, the fishery must be accredited by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment under the (EPBC Act).
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 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 .
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.
The Small Pelagic Fishery Management Plan 2009 came into effect in the SPF on 2 November 2009.
Total allowable catch determination
Overcatch and undercatch determination
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, 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.
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.
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 webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the committee.
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.
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.
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 Small Pelagic Fishery Resource Assessment Group webpage for a summary of the latest discussions and outcomes from the committee.
- Small Pelagic Fishery Management Arrangements Booklet 2022-23
- 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
Research and data publications
- Small Pelagic Fishery Annual Research proposals for 2020-21
- SPF Five Year Strategic Research Plan 2022-26
Harvest Strategy supporting research / Management Strategy Evaluation
- Updated Management Strategy Evaluation for Eastern Jack and Blue Mackerel (PDF, 214KB)
- Assessment for Eastern Jack Mackerel (PDF, 528KB)
- 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)
- Assessment for Eastern Blue Mackerel 2016 (PDF, 288KB)
- Review of the draft Harvest Strategy for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 1 MB)
- Bioeconomic target reference points for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic fishery PDF, 226KB)
- Review and update harvest strategy settings for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 3.7 MB)
Daily Egg Production Method (DEPM) surveys
- Spawning biomass of Redbait (Emmelichthys nitidua) in the East sub-area of the Small Pelagic Fishery during October 2020
- Spawning biomass of blue mackerel and Australian Sardine
- Spawning biomass of Jack Mackerel (Trachurus declivis) in the East sub-area of the Small Pelagic Fishery during summer 2019
- Spawning biomass of Jack Mackerel and Sardine between western Kangaroo Island, South Australia and south-western Tasmania (PDF, 2MB)
- Summer spawning patterns and preliminary DEPM survey of jack mackerel and Australian sardine off the East Coast 2015 (PDF, 2 MB)
- Egg distribution, reproductive parameters and spawning biomass of Blue Mackerel, Australian Sardine and Tailor off the east coast during late winter and early spring
- 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)
Annual Fishery Assessment Reports
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2019-May 2021 (PDF)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment report 2018 - May 2019 (PDF)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2017 – May 2018 (PDF, 5 MB)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2016 - May 2017 (PDF)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2015 - June 2016 (PDF)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2014 - June 2016 (PDF)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Assessment Report 2012 – July 2013 (PDF, 4 MB)
Broader Impacts of the SPF on the Environment
- Review and update of harvest strategy settings for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Single species and ecosystem considerations
- When does fishing forage species affect their predators?
- The trophodynamics of small pelagic fishes in the southern Australian ecosystem and the implications for ecosystem modelling of southern temperate
- Establishing ecosystem-based management for the South Australian Sardine Fishery: developing ecological performance indicators and reference points to assess the need for ecological allocations
- 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)
- 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)
- Pelagic fishes, sharks, and climate change 2009 (PDF, 223 KB)
- Summary of Southern Bluefin Tuna diet studies in relation to SPF species (PDF, 794KB)
- Small Pelagic Fishery: General background to the scientific issues (PDF, 674 KB)
- Simulation analysis of jack mackerel stock sizes 2013 (PDF, 3.3 MB)
- Small Pelagic Fishery – Purse Seine Scientific Observer Manual (PDF, 1 MB)
- Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery Purse Seine Code of Practice
- 2013 Fishery Assessment Report – Small Pelagic Fishery (PDF, 3 MB)
AFMA uses many methods to monitor the compliance of fishing activities and collect data on fish stocks. These include:
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.
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.