Southern Shortfin Eel (2020)

Anguilla australis

  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Andrew Bartleet (Inland Fisheries Service Tasmania)
  • Karina Hall (NSW Department of Primary Industry)
  • Steven Brooks (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Klaas Hartmann (University of Tasmania)

Date Published: June 2021

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Southern Shortfin Eel occurs in coastal streams of eastern Australia, from southern QLD to the Murray River (SA). A distinct sub-species is also found in New Zealand and islands of the western Pacific. There is currently no cross-jurisdictional stock assessment for Southern Shortfin Eel in Australia, so this assessment is presented at the jurisdictional level. Southern Shortfin Eel is classified as undefined in QLD and NSW, and sustainable in VIC and TAS.

Photo: Museums Victoria

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
New South Wales New South Wales Undefined

Catch, effort, standardised CPUE

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Stock Structure

Southern Shortfin Eel is widespread in coastal streams of south-eastern Australia, from the Pine River in southern Queensland to the Murray River in South Australia, including Tasmania. The species also occurs in New Zealand and western Pacific Islands [Beumer 1996, Allen et al. 2002]. Genetic studies indicate that Shortfin Eel represents two geographically separate subspecies; Anguilla australis australis in Australia and Anguilla australis schmidtii in New Zealand and western Pacific islands [Shen and Tzeng 2007, Arai 2016]. As there is currently no cross-jurisdictional stock assessment undertaken for the shared stock, assessment of stock status is presented here at the jurisdictional level—New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria.

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Stock Status

New South Wales

In New South Wales, commercial catches of Southern Shortfin Eel are taken almost exclusively by eel trapping in the Estuary General Fishery. Commercial catches of Southern Shortfin Eel have fluctuated widely, with a rapid increase in the early 1990s to a peak of 82.2 tonnes (t) in 1993–94 before decreasing to 3.2 t in 1996–97 and then increasing to a second peak of 46.8 t in 1998–99 before steadily decreasing to 4.3 t in 2005–06 [Hall 2020]. Since then catches have remained at less than 10 t, and have been less than 1 t over the last four years. There are insufficient data in many years to form a time series of catch rates for standardisation from New South Wales waters [Hall 2020]. Reported fishing effort for the species by eel trapping also declined rapidly during the 2000s from 1 866 days in 2000–01 to a mere 16 days in 2009–10; although targeted fishing for Longfin Eel (Anquilla reinhardtii) still occurs in many of the estuaries where catches of Southern Shortfin Eel were historically reported. Fisher identification of the two species may not be reliable.

Recreational catches of freshwater eels are not separated according to species. The most recent estimate of the recreational harvest of combined species was approximately 2 955 eels or around 2.18 t during 2017–18 [Murphy et al. 2020]. This estimate was based on a survey of Recreational Fishing Licence (RFL) Households, comprised of at least one fisher possessing a long-term (1 or 3 years duration) fishing licence and any other fishers resident within their household. The equivalent estimated recreational harvest in 2013–14 was approximately 60 per cent smaller at around 1 024 eels, but an additional 16 479 eels were caught and released [Murphy et al. 2020]. A survey of Aboriginal cultural fishing in the Tweed River catchment identified freshwater eels as one of the main components of freshwater catches [Schnierer and Egan 2016]; however, statewide estimates of the annual Aboriginal harvest of eels in New South Wales waters are unknown. There is insufficient information to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the information provided above, Southern Shortfin Eel in New South Wales is classified as an undefined stock.

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[Beumer 1996, Allen et al. 2002, McKinnon et al. 2002, Crook et al. 2014].

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Southern Shortfin Eel

Females: 18–35 years, 110 cm. Males: 14–24 years, 60 cm.

Size at migration.  Females:10–35 years, 48–102 cm. Males: 6–24 years, 34–60 cm

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Fishing methods
New South Wales
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Catch limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial restrictions
Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Size limit
New South Wales
Commercial 139.00kg
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 2 955 eels (2.2 t) of mixed freshwater eels (2017–18)

New South Wales – Recreational (catch totals) Estimate from Murphy et al. [2020], based on a survey of Recreational Fishing Licence households.

New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing).

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

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Catch Chart

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  1. Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. and Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum, Perth. 394 pp.
  2. Arai, T. (2016). Taxonomy and distribution. In: Biology and Ecology of Anguillid Eels (Arai, T. ed.), pp. 1-20. CRC Press, London.
  3. Australian Survey Research 2012, Improving Inland Recreational Fishing Survey Report. DPI: Fisheries Victoria. Australian Survey Research Group Pty Ltd, Ormond, Victoria. 89 pp.
  4. Australian Survey Research Group Pty Ltd, September 2018, Victorian Fisheries Authority Recreational Fishing Survey 2018
  5. Beumer, J.P. (1996). Family Anguillidae freshwater eels. In: Freshwater Fishes of South-Eastern Australia (McDowall, R.M. ed.), pp. 39-43. Reed Pty Ltd., Chatswood.
  6. Crook, D.A., Macdonald, J.I., Morrongiello, J.R., Belcher, C.A., Lovett, D., Walker, A. and Nicol, S.J. (2014). Environmental cues and extended estuarine residence in seaward migrating eels (Anguilla australis). Freshwater biology 59 (8): 1710-1720.
  7. Hall, KC 2020, Status of Australian Fish Stocks 2020 - NSW Stock status summary - Southern Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis). NSW Department of Primary Industries, Coffs Harbour.
  8. Head, L 1989, Prehistoric Aboriginal impacts on Australian vegetation: an assessment of the evidence. Australian Geographer 20(1): 37-46.
  9. Inland Fisheries Service, Tasmanian Inland Recreational Fishery Management Plan 2018–28
  10. McKinnon, L., Gasior, R., Collins, A., Pease, B. and Ruwald, F. (2002). Assessment of eastern Australian Anguilla australis and A. reinardtii glass eel stocks. In: Assessment of eastern Australian Glass Eel Stocks and Associated Eel Aquaculture. Final Report FRDC Project No. 97/312 (and No. 99/333) (Gooley, G.J. and Ingram, B.A. eds.), pp. 13-82. Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute, Alexandra, Australia.
  11. Murphy, JJ, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, West, LD, Stark, KE and Hughes, JM, 2020, The NSW Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - survey of recreational fishing, 2017/18. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158.
  12. Purser, J., Cooper, P., Diggle, J., Ibbott, T. Tasmanian Eel Industry Development and Management Plan, FRDC Project No 2012/208
  13. Richards, T, 2011, A late nineteenth-century map of an Australian Aboriginal fishery at Lake Condah. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2:64-87.
  14. Schnierer, S and Egan, H, 2016, Composition of the Aboriginal harvest of fisheries resources in coastal New South Wales, Australia. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 26:693-709.
  15. Shen, K.N. and Tzeng, W.N. (2007). Genetic differentiation among populations of the shortfinned eel Anguilla australis from East Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Fish Biology 70 (Suppl B): 177-190.
  16. Victorian Fisheries Authority 2017, Review of key Victorian fish stocks — 2017 Victorian Fisheries Authority Science Report Series No. 1.

Downloadable reports

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