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    Mackerel icefish mainly goes to Asian and European markets. Its flesh is white, firm and oily.

    This fish species is ideal for grilling, baking or steaming.


    Catch limits

    Catch limit

    Fishing Mortality*


    Catch Limit

    714 tonnes

    For the 2023–24 Season

    G;Not subject to overfishingG;Not overfished

    * Fishing mortality status relates to the level of fishing pressure on a stock – specifically, whether fishing mortality in the year being assessed is likely to result in the stock becoming overfished or prevent the stock from rebuilding from an overfished state. If fishing mortality exceeds either of these thresholds, a stock is considered to be subject to overfishing.

    ** Biomass status relates to how many fish there are – specifically, whether the biomass in the year being assessed is above the level at which the risk to the stock is considered to be unacceptable. The HSP defines this level as the limit reference point, below which the stock is considered to be overfished.

    Scientific name: Champsocephalus gunnari

    Family: Channichthyidae

    Other names: Icefish

    Description: Mackerel icefish have long spindle-shaped bodies with large heads and elongate snouts. The mouth is large with small teeth. The body is a bluish-silver with whitish gills.

    Size (length and weight): Up to 66 cm in length and 2kg. Commonly found at about 35 cm in length.

    Life span: Up to 15 years.

    Habitat: Mackerel icefish are a schooling species usually found at depths of 30–250 metres. They have been found down to depths of 700 metres. They migrate up and down the water column in a daily cycle. Individuals become increasingly sedentary with age and tend to stay in deeper waters.

    Prey: Small shrimp-like crustaceans such as krill and mysids.

    Predators: Other fish, occasionally penguins and seals.

    Reproduction: Mackerel icefish reach reproductive maturity at 3–4 years of age. Sexually mature males have a significantly higher first dorsal fin than females. Adults move inshore for spawning. Spawning occurs over 2–3 months in autumn and winter. Females produce 10 000‑20 000 eggs. The eggs are relatively large and remain near the sea bed for about 3 months before hatching.

    Other notes: The blood of mackerel icefish is nearly colourless due to a lack of haemoglobin. The blood also lacks myoglobin and carries compounds that prevent it freezing.  

    Fishery found inGear usedCatch of this species is targeted or incidental
    Heard Island and McDonald Islands FisheryBottom trawlTargeted

    The Commonwealth catch of mackerel icefish is managed by quota. This means that the catch of this fish by commercial fishers is restricted by weight. AFMA also restricts the type of gear that can be used to fish for mackerel icefish.

    Commercial fishers are required to fill in records of their catches, during each fishing trip and when they land their catch in a port. This helps us monitor how much is being caught.

    AFMA decides on the amount that can be caught each year from expert advice and recommendations from fisheries managers, industry members and scientists. As mackerel icefish is an international species, advice and recommendations are also provided by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

    AFMA also sets requirements for having scientific observers, supplying fishing data, satellite tracking of fishing vessels and fishing gear requirements to minimise impacts on wildlife.

    Mackerel icefish are caught in the sub-Antarctic fishery around Heard Island and McDonald Islands, 4,000 kms south-west of Perth. The waters surrounding the islands out to 200 nm are part of the Australian Fishing Zone and this area is managed by AFMA.

    Fishers use trawl nets when fishing for mackerel icefish.

    When fishing for mackerel icefish, sometimes bottom trawling can catch other species of fish. This is known as bycatch and it is monitored by on-board fishery observers who assess the environmental impact of the trawling.

    There are low levels of bycatch, caught when fishing for mackerel icefish, but some sharks, seabirds and other species may be caught.

    Although it is not physically possible to trawl on reef structures, significant long-term damage can occur if sensitive habitat areas like corals, sponges and seagrass beds are trawled. To ensure these sensitive habitat areas are protected from trawling, management arrangements such as area closures are used.

    Ecological risk assessments are done for the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Fishery to find out if the fishing of mackerel icefish is harming other species. The most recent assessment was done in 2009 and the risk to other species was assessed as low.


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    Page last updated: 22/05/2024