Australian Sardine

Sardinops sagax

  • Tim Ward (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Andy Moore (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • James Andrews (Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, Victoria)
  • Jeff Norriss (Department of Fisheries, Western Australia)
  • John Stewart (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
South Australia Southern Australia SASF Sustainable Exploitation rate, catch data
South Australian Sardine Fishery (SA)
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Stock Structure

For the purposes of fisheries management, the Australian Sardine population is currently considered to be comprised of four separate biological stocks1,2. Bass Strait separates the biological stock that occurs off eastern Australia3 from three biological stocks to the west. One stock occurs off South Australia and western Victoria1, and the other two occur off the south and west coasts of Western Australia4. Some evidence is beginning to emerge to suggest that two stocks may occur off eastern Australia, but this requires further investigation2.

As stock delineation for Australian Sardine is reasonably well known, here assessment of stock status is presented at the biological stock level—Eastern Australia, Western Australia west coast, Western Australia south coast and Southern Australia.

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Stock Status

The maximum sustainable yield for species at low trophic levels (forage species), such as Australian Sardine, is typically achieved at a depletion level of approximately 60 per cent, equivalent to 40 per cent of unfished biomass5. However, harvest strategies for these species also need to achieve a balance between exploitation and protecting ecosystem function and biodiversity5,6.

The south-east Australian ecosystem, including the Great Australian Bight, has been shown to be less sensitive to harvesting of low–trophic level species than other pelagic systems worldwide7. A recent study using ecosystem models indicates that maintaining biomasses of small pelagic fishes above 50 per cent of the unfished level will maintain the biodiversity and health of Australia’s marine ecosystems8–12. Exploitation rates (that is, catch as a proportion of spawning biomass), based on estimates of spawning biomass obtained using the daily egg production method (DEPM)13–15, were used for setting total allowable commercial catches. Management strategy evaluations estimate that exploitation rates of less than around 30 per cent of current biomass will maintain the spawning biomass of Australian Sardine above 50 per cent of the unfished level9, at levels that take into account the ecological importance of Australian Sardine5–8.

The information available to assess stock status and the frequency of formal assessments varies among jurisdictions, largely determined by recent catch levels. Catch-and-effort data are monitored annually in all jurisdictions; estimates of spawning biomass have been obtained using the DEPM for each of the four biological stocks; and population modelling has been undertaken for the Southern Australian biological stock and the two Western Australian biological stocks.

Southern Australia

The majority of the catch from the southern Australian stock is taken from South Australia, with much smaller catches from Port Phillip Bay, Victoria. Assessment of the South Australian Sardine Fishery has involved annual and, more recently, biennial daily egg production models surveys, as well as population modelling based on spawning biomass estimates, catch and catch-at-age data23,24. The most recent estimate of spawning biomass have been above 150 000 t11,23,24, which is well above the limit reference point of 75 000 t identified in the management plan for this fishery11. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be recruitment overfished. The current exploitation rate is around 23 per cent (that is, 38 000 t landed from a minimum estimate of spawning biomass of approximately 166 000 t), which is below the level considered safe for this species (30 per cent9). The above evidence indicates that this level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Southern Australian biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Australian Sardine biology19,20

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Australian Sardine 9 years; 200–250 mm  Standard Length 1–2 years; 145 mm  Standard Length
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Australian Sardine

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Fishing methods
South Australia
Purse Seine
Management methods
Method South Australia
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Total allowable catch
Active vessels
South Australia
14 in SASF
South Australian Sardine Fishery (SA)
South Australia
Commercial 36.11Kt in SASF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational No catch
South Australian Sardine Fishery (SA)

a Commonwealth – Recreational The Australian Government does not manage recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters. Recreational fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters, under its management regulations.
b Commonwealth – Indigenous The Australian Government does not manage non-commercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters, with the exception of the Torres Strait. In general, non-commercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters.
c New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) Aboriginal cultural fishing authority, the authority that Indigenous persons can apply for to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1)(c1), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
d Victoria – Indigenous (management methods) In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing are also applied to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Recognised Traditional Owners (groups that hold native title or have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 [Vic]) are exempt (subject to conditions) from the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, and can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise customary fishing (for example different catch and size limits, or equipment). The Indigenous category in Table 3 refers to customary fishing undertaken by recognised Traditional Owners. In 2014–15, there were no applications for customary fishing permits to access Australian Sardine.
e Victoria – Indigenous (management methods) Subject to the defence that applies under Section 211 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and the exemption from a requirement to hold a Victorian recreational fishing licence, the non-commercial take by indigenous fishers is covered by the same arrangements as that for recreational fishing.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Australian Sardine - note confidential catch not shown

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • The rapid growth of the South Australian Sardine Fishery (SASF) led to community concerns that taking large catches could change the balance of the ecosystems in South Australia’s gulfs and the Great Australian Bight, and potentially affect the region’s higher-level marine predators, including Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), seabirds and marine mammals. A large study was conducted to investigate the roles of Australian Sardine in the ecosystem and assess the potential ecological impacts of the fishery7. Despite the rapid growth of the fishery, negligible impacts were found on any species groups, even though several seabirds (for example, Crested Terns—Sterna bergii) were potentially sensitive to changes in the biomass of Australian Sardine.
  • The SASF was closed for two months in 2005 because of high levels of encirclement and mortality of the Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)26. A Threatened, Endangered or Protected Species Code of Practice was developed during the closure period that outlined procedures for avoiding encirclements and releasing encircled animals27. Interaction rates decreased significantly following the introduction of the code of practice26,28. A working group that includes industry, fisheries managers, scientists and representatives of conservation agencies meets every quarter to review logbook and observer data, and assess the effectiveness of the code of practice in reducing interaction rates. A report on interaction rates and the effectiveness of the code of practice is published annually27.
  • A code of conduct was established in 2006 to reduce Fleshy Footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) interactions in the Western Australian South Coast Purse Seine Fishery29.
  • A Purse Seine Code of Practice was established in 2008 by the Commonwealth industry operators that outlined best practice methods for minimising harmful interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species30.
  • A New South Wales Purse Seine Industry Code of Practice was adopted March 2008 establishing standard practice for minimising harmful interactions with Threatened, Endangered or Protected species.
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Environmental effects on Australian Sardine

  • In 1995 and 1998–99, two mass mortality events each killed more fish, over a larger area, than any other monospecific fish kill ever recorded1. These events were caused by a herpes virus to which the population had minimal or no immunity31. Rates of recovery have been different between stocks; spawning biomass increased quickly in the Southern Australian stock and strong recovery was achieved in the two Western Australian stocks by the mid 2000s13,15,22.
  • Fishers in Western Australia have reported reductions in the availability of large fish on historical fishing grounds in recent years. This may reflect changes in distribution and behaviour associated with warmer oceanic conditions, dredge plumes associated with port expansion, and increased abundance of the predatory West Australian Salmon (Arripis truttaceus)32,33.
  • There is a relationship between fish condition and upwelling strength. Recent industry reports of increases in fat content of South Australian Sardines may reflect the occurrence of several strong upwelling seasons over the past few years24.
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  1. 1 Whittington, RJ, Crockford, M, Jordan, D and Jones, B 2008, Herpesvirus that caused epizootic mortality in 1995 and 1998 in pilchard, Sardinops sagax neopilchardus (Steindachner), in Australia is now endemic, Journal of Fish Diseases, 31: 97–105.
  2. 2 Izzo, C, Gillanders, BM and Ward, TM 2012, Movement patterns and stock structure of Australian Sardine (Sardinops sagax) off South Australia and the east coast: implications for future stock assessment and management, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences) publication F2011/000487-1, SARDI research report series 611, SARDI, Adelaide.
  3. 3 Bulman, C, Condie, S, Findlay, J, Ward, B and Young, J 2008, Management zones from small pelagic fish species stock structure in southern Australian waters, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2006/076, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.
  4. 4 Gaughan, DJ, Fletcher, WJ and McKinlay, JP 2002, Functionally distinct adult assemblages within a single breeding stock of the Sardine, Sardinops sagax: management units within a management unit, Fisheries Research, 59: 217–231.
  5. 5 Smith, ADM, Brown, CJ, Bulman, CM, Fulton, EA, Johnson, P, Kaplan, IC, Lozano-Montez, H, Mackinson, S, Marzloff, M, Shannon, LJ, Shin, Y-J and Tam, J 2011, Impacts of fishing low-trophic level species on marine ecosytems, Science, 333(6046): 1147–1150.
  6. 6 Pikitch, E, Boersma, PD, Boyd, IL, Conover, DO, Cury, P, Essington T, Heppell, SS, Houde, ED, Mangel, M, Pauly, D, Plagányi, É, Sainsbury, K and Steneck, RS 2012, Little fish, big impact: managing a crucial link in ocean food webs, Lenfest Ocean Program, Washington DC.
  7. 7 Goldsworthy, SD, Page, B, Rogers, PJ, Bulman, C, Wiebkin, A, McLeay, LJ, Einoder, L, Baylis, AMM, Braley, M, Caines, R, Daly, K, Huveneers, C, Peters, K, Lowther, AD and Ward, TM 2013, Trophodynamics of the eastern Great Australia Bight ecosystem: ecological change associated with the growth of Australia’s largest fishery, Ecological Monitoring, 255: 38–57.
  8. 8 Smith, ADM, Ward, TM, Hurtado, F, Klaer, N, Fulton, E and Punt, AE 2015, Review and update of harvest strategy settings for the Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery: Single species and ecosystem considerations, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, FRDC project 2013/028. Commonwealth Scientific and Industry Research Organisation Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, Hobart.
  9. 9 Gaughan, DJ, Mitchell, RW and Blight, SJ 2000, Impact of mortality, possibly due to herpesvirus, on pilchard Sardinops sagax stocks along the south coast of Western Australia in 1998–1999, Marine and Freshwater Research, 51: 601–612.
  10. 10 Ward, TM, Hoedt, F, McLeay, L, Dimmlich, WF, Kinloch, M, McGarvey, R, Jackson, G, Rogers, PJ and Jones, K 2001, Effects of the 1995 and 1998 mass mortalities on the spawning biomass of Sardinops sagax in South Australia, ICES Journal of Marine Science, 58: 865–875.
  11. 11 Primary Industries and Regions South Australia 2014, Management plan for the South Australian commercial Marine Scalefish Fishery. Part B: Management arrangements for the taking of sardines, PIRSA, Adelaide.
  12. 12 Australian Fisheries Management Authority 2008, Small Pelagic Fishery harvest strategy, AFMA, Canberra.
  13. 13 Gaughan, DJ, Mitchell, RWD, Leary, TI and Wright, IW 2004, A sudden collapse in distribution of Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax) in southwestern Australia enables an objective re-assessment of biomass estimates, Fishery Bulletin, 102: 617–633.
  14. 14 Staunton Smith, J and Ward, TM 2000, Stock assessment of pelagic bait fishes in Southern Queensland, with special reference to pilchards (Sardinops sagax), final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Projects 95/043 and 98/130, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland, Australia.
  15. 15 Ward, TM, Burch, P, McLeay, LJ and Ivey, AR 2011, Use of the daily egg production method for stock assessment of Sardine, Sardinops sagax: lessons learned over a decade of application off southern Australia, Reviews in Fisheries Science, 19: 1–20.
  16. 16 Ward, TM and Rogers, PJ 2007, Development and evaluation of egg-based stock assessment methods for Blue Mackerel Scomber australasicus in southern Australia, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2002/061, SARDI Aquatic Sciences, Adelaide.
  17. 17 Ward, TM, Grammer, GL, Ivey, AR, Carroll, JR, Keane, JP, Stewart, J and Litherland, L 2015, Egg distribution, reproductive parameters and spawning biomass of Blue Mackerel, Australian Sardine and Tailor off the East Coast during late winter and early spring, FRDC Project 2014/033, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide.
  18. 18 Ward, TM, Burnell, O, Ivey, A, Carroll, J, Keane, J, Lyle, J and Sexton, S 2015, Summer spawning patterns and preliminary daily egg production method survey of Jack Mackerel and Australian Sardine off the East Coast, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide.
  19. 19 Stewart, J, Ballinger, G and Ferrell, D 2010, Review of the biology and fishery for Australian Sardines (Sardinops sagax) in New South Wales—2010, Industry and Investment New South Wales, Cronulla.
  20. 20 Ward, TM and Grammer, GL 2016, Commonwealth Small Pelagic Fishery: Fishery Assessment Report 2015, report to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, SARDI publication F2010/000270-7, SARDI Research Report Series 900, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide.
  21. 21 Moore, A and Mazur, K 2016, Small Pelagic Fishery, in H Patterson, R Noriega, L Georgeson, I Stobutzki and R Curtotti (ed.s), Fishery status reports 2016, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra, pp 93–116.
  22. 22 Gaughan, DJ, Craine, M, Stephenson, P, Leary, T and Lewis, P 2008, Regrowth of pilchard (Sardinops sagax) stocks off southern WA following the mass mortality event of 1998/99, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2000/135, Fisheries research report 176, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  23. 23 Ward, TM, Ivey, AR and Carroll, JD 2014, Spawning biomass of sardine, Sardinops sagax, in waters off South Australia in 2014, report to PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences) publication F2007/000566-6, SARDI Research Report Series 807, SARDI, Adelaide.
  24. 24 Ward, TM, Whitten, AR and Ivey, AR 2015, South Australian Sardine (Sardinops sagax) Fishery: stock assessment report 2015, report to Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences) publication F2007/000765-5, SARDI research report series 877, SARDI, Adelaide.
  25. 25 West, LD, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle JM and Ochwada-Doyle, FA 2015, Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 149, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wollongong.
  26. 26 Hamer, DJ, Ward, TM and McGarvey, R 2008, Measurement, management and mitigation of operational interactions between the South Australian Sardine Fishery and Short-beaked Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis), Biological Conservation, 141: 2865–2878.
  27. 27 South Australian Sardine Industry Association 2012, Code of practice for mitigation of interactions of the South Australian Sardine Fishery with threatened, endangered, and protected species, South Australian Sardine Industry Association, Port Lincoln.
  28. 28 Ward, TM, Ivey, A and Burch, P 2013, Effectiveness of an industry code of practice in mitigating the operational interactions of the South Australian Sardine Fishery with the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), report to Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences) publication F2010/000726-4, SARDI research report series 743, SARDI, Adelaide.
  29. 29 SeaNet, South Coast Purse Seine Managed Fishery manual for setting protocol, wildlife interaction and species identification, SeaNet WA, Fremantle.
  30. 30 SeaNet, South Coast Purse Seine Managed fishery: Code of Practice—Deck Manual for dealing with protected species interactions, Operational Code, SeaNet WA, Fremantle.
  31. 31 Jones, JB, Hyatt, AD, Hine, PM, Whittington, RJ, Griffin, DA and Bax, NJ 1997, Australasian pilchard mortalities, World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, 13: 383–392.
  32. 32 Muhling, BA, Beckley, LE, Gaughan, DJ, Jones, C, Miskiewicz, AG and Hesp, A 2008, Spawning, larval abundance and growth rate of Sardinops sagax off southwestern Australia: influence of an anomalous eastern boundary current, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 364: 157–167.
  33. 33 Hughes, JM, Stewart, J, Gillanders, B, Lyle, JM, McAllister, J, Stocks, JR and Suthers, IM 2013, Latitudinal, ontogenetic and historical shifts in the diet of a carnivorous teleost, Arripis trutta (Bloch and Schneider, 1801), in a coastal pelagic ecosystem altered by climate change, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 70: 1209–1230.

Archived reports

Click the links below to view reports from other years for this fish.