Eastern School Whiting Sillago flindersi

James Andrewsa, Jeremy Lyleb, Amy Smootheyc and Matthew Floodd

Eastern School Whiting

Table 1: Stock status determination for Eastern School Whiting

Jurisdiction Commonwealth, New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria
Stock South-eastern Australian
Stock status  
Indicators Spawning biomass, fishing mortality

CTS = Commonwealth Trawl Sector; ITF = Inshore Trawl Fishery (Victoria); OTF = Ocean Trawl Fishery (New South Wales); SF = Scalefish Fishery (Tasmania)

Stock Structure

Endemic to south-eastern Australia, Eastern School Whiting occurs from southern Queensland to western Victoria, and is considered to be a single biological stock for assessment purposes1. Status is reported at the biological stock level.

Stock Status

South-eastern Australian biological stock

The most recent assessment of Eastern School Whiting, which includes commercial catch estimates for New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Commonwealth, estimated that the spawning biomass would be 50 per cent of the unfished level at the beginning of 20102. The assessment was updated in 2010 and 2011, with recent catch, discard, age and length data3,4. The estimated levels of depletion in the updated assessments were similar to those in the previous full assessment. In 2010, spawning biomass would have been well above the level at which the biological stock would be considered recruitment overfished (20 per cent of the unfished biomass). Although this assessment is quite dated, which is of concern for a short-lived species such as school whiting, recent catches have remained below the long-term recommended biological catch (RBC), and the stock is unlikely to have become recruitment overfished. In addition, standardised catch-rate data from 2012 do not raise concerns about stock status5. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be recruitment overfished6.

The RBC for Eastern School Whiting was 1660 tonnes (t) for the 2012–13 fishing season5. Total Australian commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting in 2012–13 was 1235.5 t (Commonwealth—359 t [fishing season]; New South Wales—859.6 t [financial year]; Tasmania—12.8 t [financial year]; Victoria—4.1 t [financial year]), significantly below the 2012–13 RBC. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished6.

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

Table 2: Eastern School Whiting biology1–2,4–5

Longevity and maximum size

7 years; ~320 mm SL

Maturity (50%)

2 years; 140–180 mm FL

FL = fork length; SL = standard length

Figure 1: Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting in Australian waters, 2013 (calendar year)
Figure 1: Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting in Australian waters, 2013 (calendar year)

Table 3: Main features and statistics for Eastern School Whiting fisheries in Australia, 2012–13 (fishing season/financial year)



New South Walesb



Fishing methods



Otter trawl



Rod and line



Rod and line


Management methods


Limited entry

Total allowable catch

Spatial closures

Gear restrictions


Bag limits

Spatial closures


Bag limits

Spatial closures

Section 37(1)(c1) Aboriginal cultural fishing authority

Active vessels


28 in CTS

100 in OTF

2 in SF

5 in ITF



359 t in CTS

859.6 t in OTF

12.8 t in SF

4.1 t in ITF



3.4 t (2007–08)











CTS = Commonwealth Trawl Sector; ITF = Inshore Trawl Fishery (Victoria); OTF = Ocean Trawl Fishery (New South Wales); SF = Scalefish Fishery (Tasmania)

a Commonwealth data are for the 2012–13 fishing season (1 May 2012 – 21 April 2013).

State data are for the 2012–13 financial year (1 July 2012 – 30 June 2013).

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.

The Australian Government does not manage noncommercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters, with the exception of the Torres Strait. In general, noncommercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters.

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 Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010) are exempt (subject to conditions) from the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, and can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 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 2012–13, there were no applications for customary fishing permits to access Eastern School Whiting.

The Aboriginal Fishing Interim Compliance Policy 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.

The Aboriginal cultural fishing authority is the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to to take catches outside the recreational limits under the New South Wales Fisheries Management Act 1994, section 37(1)(c1) (Aboriginal cultural fishing authority).

Figure 2: Commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting in Australian waters, 1947 to 2013 (calendar years)
Figure 2: Commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting in Australian waters, 1947 to 2013 (calendar years)

Effects of fishing on the marine environment
  • There can be a substantial level of bycatch in the fish trawl sector. In 2006, mandatory requirements for otter trawls to use 90 mm square-mesh codend panels were introduced to reduce the catch of small species and juvenile fish10.

  • Interactions also occur with animals protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, including marine mammals (dolphins, seals and sea lions), seabirds, some shark species and seahorses and pipefish (syngnathids). These interactions are reported quarterly by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority11 and on-board observer programs are used to validate the reporting in commercial logbooks.

  • In 2007, the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association released an industry code of practice that aims to minimise interactions with fur seals, as well as addressing the environmental impacts of the fishery more generally12. Operators have developed other mitigation protocols that have further reduced seal mortalities, including using breakaway ties that keep the net closed until it is below depths that seals regularly inhabit, adopting techniques to close the trawl opening during recovery to minimise opportunities for seals to enter the net, switching off gantry lights that are not required during night trawling to avoid attracting bait species and seals, and dumping offal only when the boat is not engaged in deploying or hauling gear12.

  • In 2011, AFMA mandated individual vessel seabird management plans13. The seabird action plans are used in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector to mitigate the impacts of trawling on seabirds. Seabird mitigation measures include warp deflectors (‘pinkys’), bird bafflers (a system of ropes and PVC piping that protects the warp cable) and seal excluder devices.

  • The effects of trawl fishing on the marine environment are assessed through an environmental risk assessment and risk management framework and mitigated through spatial closures, and the implementation of bycatch and discard workplans in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector and Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector fisheries.

  • Danish-seine and otter trawl interact with a broad range of habitat types. However, an ecological risk assessment identified identified no high-risk habitats on the inner shelf (less than 100 m depth), where Eastern School Whiting is targeted14.

  • Danish-seining has the potential to affect seahorses and pipefish (syngnathids) because Danish-seiners operate in relatively shallow waters and use nets with a small mesh size. An ecological risk assessment (ERA) indicated that the Spiny Pipehorse was at low risk because the fishery overlaps with only a small portion of the range of this species14.

Environmental effects on Eastern School Whiting
  • Because Eastern School Whiting is a relatively short-lived species that reaches maturity after only 2 years, it is likely that year-to-year variations in environmental conditions will have a greater effect on this fishery than on a fishery for long-lived species. This is because stocks with a greater number of year-classes are generally more resilient to variable recruitment than stocks with few year-classes.

a Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria
b Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania
c Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales
d Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences