Spanish Mackerel (2020)
Date Published: June 2021
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Spanish Mackerel are widely distributed across several fisheries in WA, NT, Qld, NSW and the Torres Strait. Three of the five stocks are sustainable, the Gulf of Carpentaria stock is depleting, and the East Coast stock is depleted.
Stock Status Overview
|New South Wales||East Coast||Depleted||
Stock assessment, biomass, fishing mortality, catch, effort, catch rate, length and age structure, TAC
Genetic evidence indicates that there are three biological stocks of Spanish Mackerel across northern Australia [Moore et al. 2003]; however, evidence from otolith microchemistry, parasite analysis and limited adult movement (at scales greater than 100 km) indicates that there are likely to be a number of smaller biological stocks with limited interaction [Buckworth et al. 2007, Lester et al. 2001, Moore et al. 2003]. Each jurisdiction is likely to have multiple biological stocks within its boundaries; however, the difficulty in obtaining relevant biological, and catch and effort, information to assess each stock individually has meant that not all assessments are undertaken at the biological stock level. Those that are, are based on the populations that receive the highest harvest rates; their status can be assumed to be representative of the highest level of exploitation that occurs on any population within each management unit or jurisdiction.
Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the biological stock level—Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery and East Coast (Queensland and New South Wales); management unit level—Mackerel Managed Fishery (Western Australia), Gulf of Carpentaria (Queensland); and jurisdictional level—Northern Territory.
This cross-jurisdictional stock has components in Queensland and New South Wales [Ovenden and Street 2007]. Stock status for the entire East Coast biological stock has been established using combined information from these jurisdictions. The most recent stock assessment [Tanimoto et al. 2021] base case scenario estimated that spawning biomass in 2020 was at 17 per cent (± 4 per cent) of the unfished (1911) level.
Tanimoto et al.  suggested that spawning biomass had declined as a result of high harvests during the 1970s, early 1980s and early 2000s. Most of the harvest is taken within Queensland waters (90.5 per cent) [Tanimoto et al. 2021] with a smaller catch during late summer–autumn in northern New South Wales waters [Stewart et al. 2015]. From 2016 to 2020, the total Spanish Mackerel annual harvest by all fishing sectors (515 tonnes (t)) has averaged approximately half the annual harvest compared to 1973–2004 [Tanimoto et al. 2021]. Estimated recreational catch in Queensland in 2019–20 (171 t) was lower than the previous recreational catch estimate in 2013–14 (231 t) [Webley et al. 2015, Teixeira et al. 2021]. The estimated recreational harvest in New South Wales during 2017–18 was highly uncertain, but likely to have been less than 3 000 fish [Murphy et al., 2020]. Queensland introduced a total allowable catch (TAC) and individual transferable quotas (ITQs) in 2004 for the commercial fishery. This coincided with the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Participation levels in subsequent years were substantially reduced and the lowest recorded for the previous 25 years. Fishing effort has varied since 2004 however the stock assessment indicated standardised catch rates have been declining for three decades for the fishery as a whole. Fishery-dependent sampling indicated that fish length and age frequencies in Queensland were annually variable, but also showed continuous recruitment into the fishery [Langstreth et al. 2018].
Fishing pressure for Spanish Mackerel has historically concentrated on a small area of important spawning grounds off the coast of Townsville [Tobin et al. 2013, Tobin et al. 2014]. Buckley et al.  and Tobin et al.  noted long term reductions in both the number of Spanish Mackerel spawning aggregations and in commercial catch rates in the region. O'Neill et al.  estimated that fishing pressure for East Coast Spanish Mackerel from 2011–12 to 2015–16 was near a point equivalent to fully-fished. Fishing mortality in recent years, and for multiple historical periods, has exceeded levels to maintain Spanish Mackerel stock biomass above the limit reference point of 20 per cent. This level of fishing mortality is expected to prevent the stock from recovering from its recruitment impaired state.
The range of biomass estimates from all models ranged between 14 per cent and 57 per cent, above and below the limit reference point of 20 per cent. However, four of the eight scenarios were < 20 per cent, two were ≤ 21 per cent, and only one scenario did not show evidence of significant decline. However, this scenario relied on implausible parameter values and did not account for hyperstability.
The stock is considered to be recruitment impaired. On the basis of the evidence provided above, the East Coast biological stock is classified as a depleted stock.
Spanish Mackerel biology [McPherson 1992, McPherson 1993, QDAFF 2013]
|Species||Longevity / Maximum Size||Maturity (50 per cent)|
|Spanish Mackerel||26 years, 2400 mm FL||~2 years, 800 mm FL|
|New South Wales|
|Hook and Line|
|Method||New South Wales|
|Bag and possession limits|
|Marine park closures|
|Marine park closures|
|Customary fishing management arrangements|
|Bag and possession limits|
|Marine park closures|
|New South Wales|
|Recreational||2,820 fish (2017–18)|
Commonwealth – Commercial (active vessels) Total number of TIB licences; this is not an indicator of licence activity.
Commonwealth – Recreational The Australian Government does not manage recreational fishing, including charter fishing, in Commonwealth waters. Recreational and charter fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters, under its management regulations.
Commonwealth – Indigenous (a) The Australian Government does not manage non-commercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters, with the exception of the Torres Strait. In general, non-commercial Indigenous fishing in Commonwealth waters is managed by the state or territory immediately adjacent to those waters. In the Torres Strait, both commercial and non-commercial Indigenous fishing is managed by the Torres Strait Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) through the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (Commonwealth); the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Queensland); and the Torres Strait Regional Authority. The PZJA also manages non-Indigenous commercial fishing in the Torres Strait; and (b) Subject to the defence that applies under Section 211 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and the exemption from a requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence, the non-commercial take by Indigenous fishers is covered by the same arrangements as that for recreational fishing.
Western Australia – Recreational (catch) Western Australian boat-based recreational catch surveys from 1 Sept 2017–30 Aug 2018 [Ryan et al 2019]. Shore-based recreational catches are largely unknown.
Western Australia – Recreational (Management Methods) Western Australian boat-based recreational licence required.
Western Australia – Charter (catch) is an estimate based on numbers of fish caught multiplied by their average weight.
Northern Territory — Charter (management methods) In the Northern Territory, charter operators are regulated through the same management methods as the recreational sector but are subject to additional limits on license and passenger numbers.
Northern Territory – Indigenous (management methods) The Fisheries Act 1988 (NT), specifies that “…without derogating from any other law in force in the Territory, nothing in a provision of this Act or an instrument of a judicial or administrative character made under it limits the right of Aboriginals who have traditionally used the resources of an area of land or water in a traditional manner from continuing to use those resources in that area in that manner”.
Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing
New South Wales – Recreational (Catch) Murphy et al. .
New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing
Commercial catch of Spanish Mackerel - note confidential catch not shown. Years shown on this graph are Australian financial years (e.g. 2015 refers to the financial year beginning 01 July 2014 and ending 30 June 2015).
- AFMA 2019, PZJA Torres Strait Finfish Resource Assessment Group meeting number 6, 27–28 November 2019, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.
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- Bessell-Browne, P, O'Neill, MF, and Langstreth, J 2020, Stock assessment of the Queensland Gulf of Carpentaria Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) fishery, Technical Report, State of Queensland, Brisbane.
- Buckley, SM, Thurstan, RH, Tobin, A and Pandolfi, JM 2017, Historical spatial reconstruction of a spawning-aggregation fishery, Conservation Biology 31, pp. 1322–1332 https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12940.
- Buckworth, R, Newman, S, Ovenden, J, Lester, R and McPherson, G 2007, The stock structure of northern and western Australian Spanish Mackerel, Fishery report 88, final report, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Project 1998/159, Fisheries Group, Northern Territory Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development, Darwin.
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- McPherson, GR 1992, Age and growth of the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson Lacepede, 1800) in north-eastern Queensland waters, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 43: 1269–1282.
- McPherson, GR 1993, Reproductive biology of the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson Lacepede, 1800) in Queensland waters, Asian Fisheries Science, 6: 169–182.
- Moore, BR, Buckworth, RC, Moss, H and Lester, RJG 2003, Stock discrimination and movements of narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel across northern Australia as indicated by parasites, Journal of Fish Biology, 63: 765–779.
- 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. NSW DPI - Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158.
- Northern Territory Government (NTG) 2009, Fishery Status Reports 2008, Northern Territory Department of Resources. Fishery Report No. 101.
- O’Neill, MF and Tobin, A (unpublished), Torres Strait Spanish mackerel stock assessment II, 2015. Torres Strait AFMA Project Number: RR2014/0823, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland Government.
- O’Neill, MF, Langstreth, JC, and Buckley, SM 2018. Stock assessment of Australian east coast Spanish mackerel: predictions of stock status and reference points. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane. 107 pp.
- Ovenden, JR and Street, R 2007, Genetic population structure of Spanish Mackerel, in R Buckworth, S Newman, JR Ovenden, RJ Lester and G McPherson (eds), The stock structure of Northern and Western Australian Spanish Mackerel, Fishery report 88, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 98/159, Northern Territory Government, Darwin.
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- QFish, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, www.qfish.gov.au
- Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2013, Stock status of Queensland’s fisheries resources 2012, Queensland DAFF, Brisbane.
- Ryan, KL, Hall, NG, Lai, EK, Smallwood, CB, Tate, A, Taylor, SM, Wise, BS 2019, State-wide survey of boat based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2017/18, Fisheries Research Report 297, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia.
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- Tanimoto, M, Fox, AR, O'Neill, MF and Langstreth, JC 2021, Stock assessment of Australian east coast Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson), Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
- Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019–20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane
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- Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A, Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013–14, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
- West, LD, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle JM and Doyle, FA 2015, Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14. Fisheries Final Report Series.