Sand Whiting

Sillago ciliata

  • Jason McGilvray (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Karina Hall (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Queensland Queensland ECIFFF Sustainable Commercial catch and CPUE, length and age, mortality rate
East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)
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Stock Structure

Sand Whiting occur along the east coast of Australia and are most abundant in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Tagging studies have shown movement of adult fish between estuaries, but information on biological stock boundaries remains incomplete. The unknown nature of biological stock composition means no formal assessment of the entire biological stock has been completed. Separate assessments of Sand Whiting have been conducted in Queensland and New South Wales1–4.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—Queensland and New South Wales.

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Stock Status


In 2015 the commercial catch of Sand Whiting in Queensland was below the mean catch during the period 2000–14 (mean of 297 tonnes [t]; 2000–14; 257 t in 2015). The nominal catch rate in 2015 (68 kg per day) was the highest ever recorded for the 2000–15 period5. Fishery-dependent monitoring of Sand Whiting, beginning in 2007, indicates consistent length and age structures5. These are good indicators of a stable population with continued recruitment. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be recruitment overfished.

Nominal effort in the Queensland commercial fishery in 2015 was higher than in 2014, but remained lower than in previous years, which has improved the commercial catch rate (3753 days in 2014, compared with 3264 days in 2014 and 5400 days in 2009)5. Effort in the recreational sector of the fishery has reduced since 20016, and the introduction in 2009 of an in-possession limit (30 fish) aims to limit the overall recreational harvest. The current minimum legal size for Sand Whiting in Queensland (230 mm total length [TL]) allows a proportion of mature fish to spawn at least once3. Sand Whiting have a high rate of survival when released by recreational anglers, thus reducing discard mortality impacts on the stock7. Estimates of mortality for Sand Whiting in Queensland (from catch curves) are high (the rate of fishing mortality [F] is close to the rate of natural mortality [M]), indicating a fully-fished stock; however, the estimates have remained steady at these levels since 20075. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause this stock to become recruitment overfished.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Sand Whiting in Queensland is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Sand Whiting biology3,9–11

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Sand Whiting 12 years; 510 mm TL Males 170–240 mm FL Females: 19–240 mm FL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Sand Whiting

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Fishing methods
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Cast Net
Management methods
Method Queensland
Fishing gear and method restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Fishing gear and method restrictions
In possession limits
Size limit
Spatial closures
Active vessels
163 in ECIFFF
East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)
Commercial 257.80t in ECIFFF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 102 t (2013–14)
East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (QLD)

a Queensland – Indigenous In Queensland, under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers are able to use prescribed traditional and non-commercial fishing apparatus in waters open to fishing. Size and bag limits and seasonal closures do not apply to Indigenous fishers. Further exemptions to fishery regulations can be obtained through permits.
b New South Wales – Indigenous Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement—allows an Indigenous fisher in New South Wales to take in excess of a recreational bag limit in certain circumstances; for example, if they are doing so to provide fish to other community members who cannot harvest for themselves.
c New South Wales – Indigenous Aboriginal cultural fishing authority—the authority to which Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1)(c1), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Sand Whiting - note confidential catch not shown

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Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • In Queensland, coastal river and estuary set gillnets have been shown to have minimal impact on the environment and are quite selective in their harvest13. Bycatch is generally low when compared with the harvest of the target species13. Fishers using tunnel nets operate under industry-developed code of best practice guidelines14. Marine turtles are released with minimal difficulty, and undersized or unwanted catch is returned to the water alive.
  • In New South Wales, it has been shown that seining in estuaries can incur large amounts of bycatch of undersized organisms and unwanted species, but the use of appropriately sized mesh can reduce mortalities of these species15–18. Studies conducted in New South Wales indicate that mesh nets used in estuaries can incur substantial bycatches, including the capture of undersized individuals of key species19–21.
  • Seabirds and other marine life often become entangled in discarded recreational fishing tackle22. In south-east Queensland, a Fishing Line Recovery Bin program was instigated in 2012, in order to minimise the occurrence of discarded tackle at popular shore-based fishing locations.
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Environmental effects on Sand Whiting

  • Shallow marine habitats are important for juvenile Sand Whiting, particularly during recruitment periods8,23,24. Physical impacts on coastal marine vegetation, sub-surface topography and water quality would likely be detrimental to the Sand Whiting stock.
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  1. 1 Hoyle, S, Brown, I, Dichmont, C, Sellin, M, Cosgrove, M and McLennan, M 2000, Integrated fish stock assessment and monitoring program, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 94/161, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.
  2. 2 O’Neill, MF 2000, Fishery assessment of the Burnett River, Maroochy River and Pumistone Passage, Project Report QO99012, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.
  3. 3 Ochwada-Doyle, FA, Stocks, J, Barnes, L and Gray, CA 2014, Reproduction, growth and mortality of the exploited sillaginid, Sillago ciliata Cuvier, 1829, Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 30: 870–880, doi: 10.1111/jai.21478.
  4. 4 Gray, CA, Pease, BC, Stringfellow, SL, Raines, LP, Rankin, BK and Walford, TR 2000, Sampling estuarine fish species for stock assessment, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 94/042, New South Wales Fisheries Research Institute, Cronulla.
  5. 5 Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Forestry 2016, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop 2016, 13–14 June 2016, Brisbane, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  6. 6 Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland.
  7. 7 Butcher, PA, Broadhurst, MK and Brand, CP 2006, Mortality of sand whiting (Sillago ciliata) released by recreational anglers in an Australian estuary, ICES Journal of Marine Science, 63: 567–571.
  8. 8 Hall, KC 2015, Sand Whiting (Sillago ciliata), In: J Stewart, A Hegarty, C Young, AM Fowler and J Craig (eds), Status of fisheries resources in NSW 201314, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Mosman, 263–267.
  9. 9 Burchmore, JJ 1988, Biology of four species of Whiting (Pices : Sillaginidae) in Botany Bay, New South Wales, Marine and Freshwater Research, 39: 709–27.
  10. 10 McKay, RJ 1992, Sillaginid fishes of the world, vol. 14, FAO synopsis no. 125, Food and Agriculture Organisation.
  11. 11 Stocks, J, Stewart, J and Gray, CA 2011, Using otolith increment widths to infer spatial, temporal and gender variation in the growth of sand whiting Sillago ciliata, Fisheries Management and Ecology, 18: 121–131.
  12. 12 West, L.D, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle JM and Ochwada-Doyle, FA 2016, Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14, Fisheries Final Report Series No. 150.
  13. 13 Halliday, IA, Ley, JA, Tobin, A, Garrett, R, Gribble, NA and Mayer, DG 2001, The effects of net fishing: addressing biodiversity and bycatch issues in Queensland inshore waters, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 97/206, Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.
  14. 14 Moreton Bay Seafood Industry Association 2012, Moreton Bay tunnel net fishery code of best practice.
  15. 15 Gray, C, Larsen, R and Kennelly, S 2000, Use of transparent netting to improve size selectivity and reduce bycatch in fish seine nets, Fisheries Research, 45: 155–166.
  16. 16 Kennelly, SJ and Gray, CA 2000, Reducing the mortality of discarded undersize sand whiting Sillago ciliata in an estuarine seine fishery, Marine and Freshwater Research, 51: 749–53.
  17. 17 Gray, CA and Kennelly, SJ 2003, Catch characteristics of the commercial beach-seine fisheries in two Australian barrier estuaries, Fisheries Research, 63: 405–422.
  18. 18 Gray, CA and Kennelly, SJ 2001, Development of discard-reducing gears and practices in the estuarine prawn and fish haul fisheries of NSW, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 1997/207, New South Wales Fisheries, Cronulla.
  19. 19 Gray, CA, Broadhurst, MK, Johnson, DD and Young, DJ 2002, Management implications of discarding in an estuarine multi-species gill net fishery, Fisheries Research, 56: 177–192.
  20. 20 Gray, CA, Johnson, DD, Young, J and Broadhurst, MK 2004, Discards from the commercial gillnet fishery for dusky flathead, Platycephalus fuscus, in New South Wales, Australia: spatial variability and initial effects of change in minimum legal length of target species, Fisheries Management and Ecology, 11: 323–333.
  21. 21 Gray, CA, Johnson, DD, Broadhurst, MK and Young, DJ 2005, Seasonal, spatial and gear-related influences on relationships between retained and discarded catches in a multi-species gillnet fishery, Fisheries Research, 75: 56–72.
  22. 22 Campbell, M 2013, Tactical Research Fund: Reducing the impact of discarded recreational fishing tackle on coastal seabirds, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2011/057, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.
  23. 23 Morton, RM 1985, The reproductive biology of Summer Whiting, Sillago ciliata, in Northern Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australian Zoologist, 21: 491–502.
  24. 24 West, RJ and King, RT 1996, Marine, brackish and freshwater fish communities in the vegetated and bare shallows of an Australian Coastal River, Estuaries, 19: 31–41.

Archived reports

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