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
New South Wales New South Wales 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

New South Wales

An annual basket total allowable catch (TAC) for combined Eastern School Whiting and Stout Whiting (Sillago robusta) was introduced for the New South Wales Ocean Trawl Fishery (OTF) in May 2019, and was initially set at 1 189 t for the 2019–20 fishing season [Hall 2020]. A harvest strategy is currently being developed for trawl whiting in New South Wales and a cross-jurisdictional research project funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation is underway to clarify the stock structure of the species using modern genetic and otolith chemistry methods.

To support quota determination, a quantitative stock assessment of the entire biological Eastern School Whiting stock has been undertaken by Commonwealth agencies every 3-5 years [e.g., Day 2017]. Previous assessments have included State catch data, but were otherwise based largely on Commonwealth fisheries data, particularly from the Lakes Entrance Danish-seine fleet. Nevertheless, the biological parameters selected, especially in more recent assessments that have included age data from sectioned otoliths, are considered appropriate for New South Wales and these stock assessments, together with complimentary fisheries data analyses from New South Wales, provide the most reliable source of information on stock status for TAC determination [Gray et al. 2014a,b, Hall 2018].

Historically, approximately 60 per cent of the total catch of Eastern School Whiting has come from New South Wales State waters. However, New South Wales catches decreased between 2011 and 2014 from historical levels of around 700–1 000 t per year to 492 t in 2014 [Hall 2015] and Commonwealth catches increased to take approximately 50 per cent of the total catch [Day 2017]. Since 2014, the New South Wales State catch has increased significantly and, in the three years prior to quota introduction, was 1 188 t in 2017, 1 155 t in 2018 and 1 196 t in 2019 [Hall 2020]. 

The increased catches in New South Wales over the last three years have been mostly taken by the fish trawl fleet from a single ocean zone (OZ5, covering one degree of latitude near Newcastle). While standardised mean catch rates for the entire fish trawl fleet have recently increased from below the long-term average in 2013 and 2014 to near the long-term average over the last three years, catch rates from the ocean zone near Newcastle decreased by over 50 per cent between 2011 and 2014 to below the long-term average and have remained low since [Hall 2020]. While there is some evidence of localised depletion and that total biomass has recently decreased to near 35% of unfished spawning biomass, the stock is not considered to be recruitment impaired. 

The Commonwealth stock assessment in 2017 estimated an average recommended biological catch (RBC) of 1 615 t for the whole stock for the three years 2018 to 2020 [Day 2017]. The total combined catches over this period were 1 701 t in 2017, 1 916 t in 2018 and 1 743 t in 2019 (catch chart). When combined with the weighted average discards (estimated as 103.92 t for the 2018-19 year, ABARES 2019) the total removals has exceeded the estimated RBC over the last three years. Furthermore, a partial update of the assessment in 2019 revised the predicated RBC under an average recruitment scenario to 1 165 t for 2020 [Day 2019]. 

Given the uncertain stock structure, decrease in biomass estimates to 35% of unfished levels in 2020 under average recruitment and total removals in excess of the estimated RBC over three years that was concentrated in New South Wales waters, the level of fishing mortality was considered sufficient to cause recruitment impairment, and the New South Wales part of the South Eastern Australia biological stock was classified as a depleting stock in 2019. The New South Wales basket TAC was reduced from 1 189 t in 2019–20 to 898 t for the 2020–21 fishing season, of which on average approximately 668 t is likely to be Eastern School Whiting. 

A full update of the Commonwealth stock assessment using data up to 2019 and including an increased amount of data from New South Wales, comprising two standardised CPUE series, historical length and age data and discard rate estimates, was completed using a new five-fleet model in late 2020, to inform TAC setting for the 2021–22 fishing season [Day et al. 2020, cited in AFMA 2021]. The results estimated that the stock level had increased from 33% of unfished spawning biomass in 2019 to 41% in 2021, assuming average recruitment into the future, and that the estimated RBC in 2020 had increased to 2 140 t [AFMA 2021]. While this includes a larger amount of total discards than previous RBCs, the overall productivity of the stock had increased and the certainty in the parameter estimates improved. Consequently, the current level of fishing mortality is considered unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.

On the basis of the above evidence, the New South Wales part of the stock 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
New South Wales
Hook and Line
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Spatial closures
Total allowable catch
Vessel restrictions
Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Spatial closures
New South Wales
Commercial 1.20Kt
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 10 933 fish or 1.54 t (in 2017/18)

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

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