Spanish Mackerel

Scomberomorus commerson

  • Joanne Langstreth (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Ashley Williams (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • John Stewart (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Nic Marton (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences)
  • Paul Lewis (Department of Fisheries, Western Australia)
  • Thor Saunders (Department of Primary Industry and Resources, Northern Territory)

You are currently viewing a report filtered by jurisdiction. View the full report.

Toggle content

Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
New South Wales East Coast OTLF Sustainable Biomass, fishing mortality, catch and catch rate, length and age structure, TAC
Ocean Trap and Line (NSW)
Toggle content

Stock Structure

Genetic evidence indicates that there are three biological stocks of Spanish Mackerel across northern Australia1; however, evidence from otolith microchemistry, parasite analysis and limited adult movement (at scales greater than 100 km) indicates that there are likely to be a number of smaller biological stocks with limited interaction1–3. Each jurisdiction is likely to have multiple biological stocks within its boundaries; however, the difficulty in obtaining relevant biological, and catch and effort, information to assess each stock individually has meant that not all assessments are undertaken at the biological stock level. Those that are, are based on the populations that receive the highest harvest rates; their status can be assumed to be representative of the highest level of exploitation that occurs on any population within each management unit or jurisdiction.


Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the biological stock level—Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery (Commonwealth) and East coast (Queensland and New South Wales); management unit level—Mackerel Managed Fishery (Western Australia), Gulf of Carpentaria (Queensland); and jurisdictional level—Northern Territory.

Toggle content

Stock Status

East Coast

The cross-jurisdictional East coast biological stock extends from Cape York in north Queensland waters, to its southern extent in northern New South Wales13. Each jurisdiction assesses and manages the part of the biological stock that occurs in its waters however, a combined stock assessment for the biological stock is conducted. The status presented here for the biological stock has been established using evidence from the two jurisdictions.


Total commercial and recreational landings for the biological stock (614 t in 2014–1512) over the past few years have been below the lowest sustainable yield estimate (yield that sustains a biomass of 1.2BMSY in the hyperstable model case) of 956 t, as well as below the lowest risk management yield estimate of 715 t14. The majority of the catch for the commercial line fisheries in both jurisdictions (337 t in 2014–15) is taken within Queensland waters (89 per cent) with a smaller seasonal fishery in northern New South Wales waters15 during late summer–autumn. Almost a third of the total commercial catch is taken from a very small area off the coast of Townsville (North Queensland) and most of this during only a few months of the year12, indicating potentially high localised fishing pressure. Recreational catch (estimated at 277 t in 2013 11,15,16) is similar to the commercial catch and is spread along the extent of the east coast in Queensland and northern New South Wales waters. In Queensland, a total allowable catch and individual transferable quotas introduced in 2004 for the commercial fishery substantially reduced participation to the lowest levels recorded in the past 25 years. Fishing effort has since increased from around 9000–13 500 tender vessel days, with fishing effort almost doubling on the main fishing grounds off Townsville (north Queensland) over the past 8 years12.


The most recent assessment14 estimates that biomass in 2008–09 ranged from 34–55 per cent of the unfished (1937) level. Research, using commercial Queensland catch and effort data, describes a contraction in the spatial and temporal presence of aggregations on the main commercial fishing grounds17 in North Queensland, which may be a result of the vulnerable nature of transient spawning aggregations that form each year18. However, standardised commercial catch rates are relatively stable across the majority of the Queensland fishery and nominal catch rates in New South Wales vary but show no overall trends during the past 20 years15. The length and age frequencies in Queensland show annually variable, but continuous, recruitment into the fishery12. A strong recruitment year class (2-year-olds) in 2014–15 comprised around 60 per cent of the commercial and recreational catch in Queensland waters. The stock is not considered to be recruitment overfished.


Queensland fishery-dependent monitoring data indicates a varied but continuous pattern of recruitment, and the estimate of total mortality rate in 2014–15 is less than twice the natural mortality rate12 for this species. There is a minimum legal length of 750 mm total length for Spanish Mackerel for both jurisdictions, which protects a portion of juveniles. This level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished.


On the basis of the evidence provided above, the East coast (Queensland and New South Wales) biological stock is classified as a sustainable stock.

Toggle content


Spanish Mackerel biology19–21

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Spanish Mackerel 26 years; 2400 mm FL ~2 years; 800 mm FL 
Toggle content


Distribution of reported commercial catch of Spanish Mackerel

Toggle content


Fishing methods
New South Wales
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Vessel restrictions
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Section 31 (1)(c1), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Size limit
Spatial closures
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Size limit
Spatial closures
Active vessels
New South Wales
67 in OTLF
Ocean Trap and Line (NSW)
New South Wales
Commercial 38.56t in OTLF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 26 t (in 2013–14)
Ocean Trap and Line (NSW)

a Commonwealth and Queensland The reporting period for the Commonwealth (Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery) and Queensland (East coast [Queensland]) is the 2014–15 financial year.
b Commonwealth – Recreational The Australian Government does not manage recreational fishing, including charter fishing, in Commonwealth waters. Recreational and charter fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters, under its management regulations.
c 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. In the Torres Strait, both commercial and non-commercial Indigenous fishing is managed by the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (Commonwealth); the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Queensland); and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. The PZJA also manages non-Indigenous commercial fishing in the Torres Strait.
d Queensland – Indigenous Under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers in Queensland are entitled to use prescribed traditional and non-commercial fishing apparatus in waters open to fishing. Size and possession limits, and seasonal closures do not apply to Indigenous fishers. Further exemptions to fishery regulations may be applied for through permits.
e Indigenous 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 recreational fishing licence, the non-commercial take by indigenous fishers is covered by the same arrangements as that for recreational fishing.
f New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) 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 themselves.
g 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.
h Commonwealth – Commercial (active vessels) Total number of TIB licences; this is not an indicator of licence activity.
i Western Australia – Recreational (catch) Western Australian boat-based recreational catch from 1 May 2013–30 April 20147.j Queensland – Recreational (catch) Survey of Queensland residents only from August 2013–October 2014 11.

Toggle content

Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Spanish Mackerel - note confidential catch not shown

Toggle content

Effects of fishing on the marine environment

  • Targeted fishing for all Spanish Mackerel in Western Australia and most Spanish Mackerel fishing in the other jurisdictions uses trolled lines. This method has almost no direct impact on the habitats where it is used and results in little bycatch22–25.
  • Commercial gillnets interact with threatened, endangered and protected species. Although reported interactions are low, the impact on the populations of these species is unknown.
  • Commercial trawl gear used in the Northern Territory has the potential to impact on the benthic habitat. However, trawl nets in the Northern Territory have been designed to fish off the seabed, reducing interaction with benthic habitats26. The trawl fishery in the Northern Territory comprises a small fleet and only fishes around seven per cent of the available area26.
  • An analysis of community structure of finfish in the bioregions in Western Australia6 where mackerel fishing has been undertaken has found no evidence of any significant shift over the past 30 years27.
Toggle content

Environmental effects on Spanish Mackerel

  • Annual recruitment strength of Spanish Mackerel appears to be negatively correlated with spring sea surface temperature, with cooler years positively influencing recruitment on the Queensland east coast28. In addition, marine heatwave events in late-2010 and early-2011 off the south-western coast of Western Australia appear to have temporarily shifted Spanish Mackerel distribution southward29. It is currently unclear if this is a one-off event or a longer-term regime shift in the system.
Toggle content


  1. 1 Moore, BR, Buckworth, RC, Moss, H and Lester, RJG 2003, Stock discrimination and movements of narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel across northern Australia as indicated by parasites, Journal of Fish Biology, 63: 765–779.
  2. 2 Buckworth, R, Newman, S, Ovenden, J, Lester, R and McPherson, G 2007, The stock structure of northern and western Australian Spanish Mackerel, Fishery report 88, final report, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project 1998/159, Fisheries Group, Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development, Darwin.
  3. 3 Lester, RJG, Thompson, C, Moss, H and Barker, SC 2001, Movement and stock structure of narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel as indicated by parasites, Journal of Fish Biology, 59: 833–842.
  4. 4 Begg, GA, Chen, CM, O’Neill, MF and Rose, DB 2006, Stock assessment of the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery, technical report 66, CRC Reef Research Centre, Townsville.
  5. 5 Marton, N, Finn, M and Skirtun, M 2015, Torres Strait Finfish Fishery, in H Patterson, L Georgeson, I Stobutzki and R Curtotti (eds), Fishery status reports 2015, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Canberra, 296–306.
  6. 6 Mackie, M, Gaughan, DJ and Buckworth, RC 2003, Stock assessment of narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) in Western Australia, final report, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 1999/151, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  7. 7 Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai, EK, Smallwood, CB, Taylor, SM, Wise, BS 2015 State-wide survey of boat based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2013/14, Fisheries Research Report 268, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia.
  8. 8 Northern Territory Government 2016, Status of Key Northern Territory Fish Stocks Report 2015, Northern Territory Government, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Fishery Report No. 118.
  9. 9 Grubert, M, Saunders, T, Martin, J, Lee, H and Walters, C 2013, Stock assessments of selected Northern Territory fishes, Fishery report 110, Northern Territory Government, Darwin.
  10. 10 Welch, D, Hoyle, S, McPherson, G and Gribble, N 2002, Preliminary assessment of the East Coast Spanish Mackerel Fishery in Queensland, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  11. 11 Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A, Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  12. 12 Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2016, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop 2016, 14-15 June 2016, Brisbane, Australia, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
  13. 13 Ovenden, JR and Street, R 2007, Genetic population structure of Spanish Mackerel, in R Buckworth, S Newman, JR Ovenden, RJ Lester and G McPherson (eds), The stock structure of Northern and Western Australian Spanish Mackerel, Fishery report 88, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 98/159, Northern Territory Government, Darwin.
  14. 14 Campbell, AB, O’Neill, MF, Staunton-Smith, J, Atfield, J and Kirkwood, J 2012, Stock assessment of the Australian East Coast Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) Fishery, Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane.
  15. 15 Stewart, J, Hegarty, A, Young, C, Fowler, AM and Craig, J 2015, Status of Fisheries Resources in NSW 2013–14, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Mosman: 391pp.
  16. 16 West, L.D, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle JM and Doyle, FA 2015, Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14. Fisheries Final Report Series.
  17. 17 Tobin, A, Heupel, M, Simpfendorfer, C, Buckley, S, Thurstan, R and Pandolfi, J 2014, Utilising innovative technology to better understand Spanish Mackerel spawning aggregations and the protection offered by Marine Protected Areas, Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville.
  18. 18 Tobin A, Currey L and Simpfendorfer, C 2013, Informing the vulnerability of species to spawning aggregation fishing using commercial catch data, Fisheries Research, 143: 47–56.
  19. 19 McPherson, GR 1992, Age and growth of the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson Lacepede, 1800) in north-eastern Queensland waters, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 43: 1269–1282.
  20. 20 McPherson, GR 1993, Reproductive biology of the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson Lacepede, 1800) in Queensland waters, Asian Fisheries Science, 6: 169–182.
  21. 21 Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2013, Stock status of Queensland’s fisheries resources 2012, Queensland DAFF, Brisbane.
  22. 22 Australian Fisheries Management Authority 2012, Strategic assessment report: Torres Strait Finfish Fishery, February 2012, report to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
  23. 23 Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2009, Assessment of the Western Australia Mackerel Fishery, DEWHA, Canberra.
  24. 24 Fisheries Queensland 2012, Annual status report 2011 Gulf of Carpentaria Line Fishery, Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane.
  25. 25 Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries 2005, Report on the bycatch and byproduct risk assessment for the East Coast Spanish Mackerel Fishery, DPIF, Brisbane.
  26. 26 Mounsey, RP and Ramm, DC 1991, Evaluation of a new design of semi-demersal trawl, Fishery report 25, Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, Darwin.
  27. 27 Hall, NG and Wise, BS 2011, Development of an ecosystem approach to the monitoring and management of Western Australian fisheries, report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2005-063, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.
  28. 28 Welch, D, Saunders, T, Robins, J, Harry, A, Johnson, J, Maynard, J, Saunders, R, Pecl, G, Sawynok, B and Tobin, A 2014, Implications of climate change on fisheries resources of northern Australia, part 1, Vulnerability assessment and adaptation options, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 2010/565, James Cook University, Townsville.
  29. 29 Pearce, A, Lenanton, R, Jackson, G, Moore, J, Feng, M and Gaughan, D 2011, The ‘marine heat wave’ off Western Australia during the summer of 2010/11, Fisheries research report 222, Western Australian Department of Fisheries, Perth.

Archived reports

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