Eastern School Whiting (2020)

Sillago flindersi

  • Karina Hall (NSW Department of Primary Industry)
  • Timothy Emery (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES))
  • Nils Krueck (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)

Date Published: June 2021

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Eastern School Whiting is found in the waters of southern QLD to western VIC. Two management units, both of which are sustainable, are identified across this distribution.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Commonwealth Southern Australia Sustainable

Catches, standardised CPUE, lengths, ages, discards, biomass depletion estimates (stock synthesis)

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Stock Structure

Eastern School Whiting is endemic to south-eastern Australia and occurs from southern Queensland to western Victoria. Some historical genetic and growth data suggests there may be separate northern and southern stocks of Eastern School Whiting, with a division around Forster [Dixon et al. 1987]. However, the power of the methods used to detect a difference was limited and the results were difficult to interpret, with no clear geographic pattern in the genetic variation detected [Dixon et al. 1987]. Overall, the hypothesis of a single, genetically diverse panmictic stock could not be rejected, and the species has been assessed as a single biological stock [Day 2010, Day 2017, Conron et al. 2018]. However, due to divergent fishing effort and assessment results between the northern and southern parts of the stock in recent years and the ongoing uncertainty regarding the stock structure, stock status is reported according to management units in the current report.

Here, the assessment of the stock status is presented for two management units—Southern Australia (Commonwealth, Victoria and Tasmania) and New South Wales.


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Stock Status

Southern Australia

Stock status classification reported here for the Southern (Commonwealth, Victoria and Tasmania) management unit is based on stock assessments conducted for the Commonwealth’s Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF). This assessment includes reported state catches. Eastern School Whiting in the SESSF is managed as a Tier 1 stock under the SESSF Harvest Strategy Framework [AFMA, 2019]. The 2017 Tier 1 stock assessment [Day 2017] informed the management of the stock for the 2019–20 fishing season, however an update to the assessment was undertaken in 2019 [Day, 2019].

The last full assessment, which was undertaken in 2017 [Day 2017] predicted the spawning stock biomass at the start of 2018 would be 47% of the unexploited spawning stock biomass (0.47SB0), below the target reference point of 48% (0.48SB0) but above the limit reference point of 20% (0.20SB0). In 2019, this assessment was updated with catch data for the Commonwealth and New South Wales for 2017 and 2018 and CPUE data for the Commonwealth [Day 2019]. This led to a revised estimated spawning stock biomass of 36% (0.36SB0) at the start of 2018. This reduction in the estimate of spawning stock biomass, when compared with the 2017 assessment, was driven by declining Commonwealth CPUE in 2018 and revisions to the New South Wales catch data for 2017 and 2018 (actual catches were substantially higher than those used for projections in the 2017 assessment). This led to a revised RBC of 1 165 t for 2020–21, and a 3-year-average RBC of 1 318 t [AFMA 2019]. The stock is therefore unlikely to be depleted and recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.

Projections published in the 2019 update of stock response to various fixed-catch scenarios (RBC, 1 600 t, 1 800 t and 1 900 t), when assuming average recruitment, indicated that if the RBC was caught in 2020 and 2021 the stock would recover to 44% (0.44SB0) at the start of 2022. If 1 800 or 1 900 t was caught, then the spawning stock biomass would remain relatively stable at 36% and 34%, respectively, at the start of 2022.

In Tasmania, commercial catches of Eastern School Whiting recorded for the Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery (TSF) fluctuate strongly and in close agreement with the level of effort recorded for a limited number of operators. Commercial catches vary between a few kg and up to about 50 t per year. In 2018–19, the total recorded TSF catch was 41.5 t [Krueck et al. 2020]. Recreational catches in Tasmanian waters are comparatively low [Lyle et al. 2019]. The total landed catch from the Victorian ITF and GLF sectors was less than 5 t in 2018–19.

Commonwealth landed catch in the trawl and scalefish hook sectors of the SESSF was 526 t in the 2019–20 fishing season (538 t in 2018–19 fishing season). Discards and state catches have been estimated to be 191.8 t and 1 153.5 t, respectively, based on the weighted average of the previous four fishing seasons (2015–16 to 2018–19) [Burch et al. 2019]. Combined, total landings are estimated to be above the revised RBC of 1 165 t but below 1 900 t. This level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause Eastern School Whiting to become recruitment impaired.

Based on the evidence provided above, the Southern management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Eastern School Whiting biology [Day 2017, Dixon et al. 1987, Gray et al. 2014a]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Eastern School Whiting

9 years, 320 mm FL

2 years, 140–180 mm FL 

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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting
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Fishing methods
Danish Seine
Otter Trawl
Management methods
Method Commonwealth
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Total allowable catch
Commercial 538.19t

Commonwealth – Commercial (Management Methods/Catch) Data provided for the Commonwealth align with the Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery for the 2018-19 financial year.

Commonwealth – Recreational The Commonwealth 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.  

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

New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania State data are for the 2018/19 fiscal year. Reported landings from northern New South Wales waters have been adjusted to account for estimated species misreporting with Stout Whiting, Sillago robusta [Hall 2020].

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).

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

Tasmania – Recreational (Management Methods) In Tasmania, a recreational licence is required for fishers using dropline or longline gear, along with nets, such as gillnet or beach seine. A bag limit of 15 individuals and possession limit of 30 individuals (combined total for all whiting species except King George Whiting) is in place for recreational fishers.

Tasmania – Indigenous (Management Methods) In Tasmania, Indigenous persons engaged in traditional fishing activities in marine waters are exempt from holding recreational fishing licences, but must comply with all other fisheries rules as if they were licensed. For details, see the policy document "Recognition of Aboriginal Fishing Activities” (https://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/Documents/Policy%20for%20Aboriginal%20tags%20and%20alloting%20an%20UIC.pdf).

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting - note confidential catch not shown

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  1. AFMA 2017, SESSF Total Allowable Catch recommendations for the 2017–18 fishing year AFMA, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra, ACT
  2. AFMA 2019, Harvest strategy framework for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery 2009 (amended 2019), Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
  3. AFMA 2021, Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF): total allowable catch recommendations 2021-22. Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra, ACT.
  4. Burch, P, Althaus, F & Thomson, R 2019, Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) catches and discards for TAC purposes using data until 2018, Prepared for the SERAG Meeting, 3-4 December 2019, Hobart, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania.
  5. Conron, S., K. Hall, F. Helidoniotis, J. Lyle, and B. Moore. 2018. Eastern School Whiting Sillago flindersi. C. Stewardson, and coeditors, editors. Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports 2018. Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra, ACT.
  6. Day, J 2010, School Whiting (Sillago flindersi) stock assessment based on data up to 2008, in GN Tuck (ed.), Stock assessment for the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery 2009, part 1, Australian Fisheries Management Authority and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart.
  7. Day, J 2019, School whiting (Sillago flindersi) projections based on CPUE updates to 2018, estimated catch to 2019 and projected catch scenarios to 2021, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart
  8. Day, J, 2017, School whiting (Sillago flindersi) stock assessment based on data up to 2016 Version 2–18 December 2017. CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Prepared for the SE RAG Meeting, December 2017, for the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.
  9. Dixon, PI, Crozier, RH, Black, M and Church, A 1987, Stock identification and discrimination of commercially important whitings in Australian waters using genetic criteria, final report, Fishing Industry Research Trust Account project 83/16, Centre for Marine Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney.
  10. Gray, CA, Barnes LM, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, van der Meulen, DE, Kendall, BW and Robbins, WD, 2014a, Age, growth and demographic characteristics of Sillago flindersi exploited in a multi-species trawl fishery. Fisheries Science 80:915-924.
  11. Gray, CA, Barnes, LM, van der Meulen, DE, Kendall, BW, Ochwada-Doyle, FA and Robbins, WD, 2014b, Depth interactions and reproductive ecology of sympatric Sillaginidae: Sillago robusta and S. flindersi. Aquatic Biology 21:127-142.
  12. Hall, KC 2015, Eastern School Whiting (Sillago flindersi), In: Stewart, J, Hegarty, A, Young, C, Fowler, AM and Craig, J (eds), Status of Fisheries Resources in NSW 2013–14, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Mosman, pp 113–116.
  13. Hall, KC 2018, Stock status summary and supplementary information 2018 – Ocean Trawl Fishery (Inshore Prawn, Offshore Prawn, Deepwater Prawn and Northern Fish Trawl) – Eastern School Whiting and Stout Whiting (Sillago flindersi and Sillago robusta), NSW Department of Primary Industries, Coffs Harbour.
  14. Hall, KC 2020, Stock assessment report 2019 - Ocean Trawl Fishery (Inshore Prawn, Offshore Prawn, Deepwater Prawn and Northern Fish Trawl) - Eastern School Whiting and Stout Whiting (Sillago flindersi and Sillago robusta), NSW Department of Primary Industries, Coffs Harbour
  15. Krueck N, Hartmann, K and Lyle J 2020, Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery Assessment 2018/19. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania.
  16. Lyle, JM, Stark, KE, Ewing, GP and Tracey, SR 2019, 2017-18 Survey of recreational fishing in Tasmania. Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Hobart, Tasmania.
  17. 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.
  18. Richard, D, Methot Jr 2013, User Manual for Stock Synthesis. Model Version 3.24s, Updated November 21, 2013, NOAA Fisheries, Seattle, Washington.

Downloadable reports

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