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
Tasmania Tasmania Sustainable

Catch, spatial restrictions on effort

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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


In Tasmania the freshwater eel fishery catches adult Southern Shortfin Eels (A. australis) and Longfin Eels (A. reinhardtii). The fishery is primarily focused on Southern Shortfin Eels which typically constitute more than 95% of the harvest by weight.

The commercial fishery is managed by the Inland Fishery Service (IFS) with 12 commercial fishing licences that restrict operators to geographically defined areas. Fishing is not permitted in an extensive region in Tasmania including the World Heritage Area and 99 per cent of rivers. Harvesting of juvenile eels is prohibited through application of a size limit. Regular commercial catch estimates are not available but have historically ranged between 30 t and 70 t per year for both species combined [Purser et. al. 2014]. 

Recreational eel fishing is limited by a bag limit, possession limit and size limit which apply to both species. Estimates of recreational catches are unavailable [IFS 2018].

The Inland Fisheries Service (IFS) supports the fishery and the stock through annual catch of juvenile eels during their annual upstream migration and relocating these above stream structures. Eel ladders and dam bypasses to assist eel migration have continued to be developed by IFS and Hydro Tasmania. 

Eel catches across both species are reported to have remained consistent over decades, with most of the fluctuation in catches due to changes in the commercial fishing sector and fluctuating market demand. This indicates that the Tasmanian component of the Southern Shortfin Eel stock is not depleted.

A substantial portion of Tasmania's waterways are protected from eel fishing including those in the World Heritage Area where there are also fewer barriers to eel migration. Existing management restrictions have successfully maintained catches of both species at a consistent level (although data available to assess this is limited). This evidence indicates that existing fishing activities are unlikely to cause the stock to become depleted.


The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. The above evidence also indicates that the currently level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Southern Shortfin Eel in Tasmania is classified as a sustainable 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
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Tasmania
Bag and possession limits
Spatial closures
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

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.

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