A Queensland government paper says Spanish mackerel are being overfished and the fishery is unsustainable, just three years after it was deemed sustainable.
- Fisheries Queensland estimates Spanish mackerel biomass is critically low
- The industry is reeling from the new data, which follows decades of believing the species was sustainably harvested
- A working group will meet later this month to begin developing a recovery strategy
The East Coast Spanish Mackerel Working Group met for the first time last month in Brisbane, where it heard that a new stock assessment found the species biomass was just 17 per cent of un-fished stocks.
This meant fishing pressure has taken 83 per cent of Queensland’s Spanish mackerel stocks
The estimate is below the 20 per cent figure at which a fishery is recommended to be closed under the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.
On average, about 300 tonnes per year of Spanish mackerel have been commercially fished since 2004 and until now, the industry was under the impression the species was harvested sustainably.
Bowen fishing wholesaler Chloe Bauer runs a busy fish and chip shop alongside the family’s two fishing boats and processing factory and said the industry was reeling from the news.
“There’s never been any sign the fishery was in any kind of struggle, it’s seasonal, you’ve got good and bad years, but it’s always been very viable.”
New formula used
The Fisheries Queensland communique noted that total harvest of the species was well below the current total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for the species.
Information supplied also revealed that recreational fishing pressure was increasing, adding up to an estimate of 170 tonnes of catch annually.
But the seafood industry wanted more information about how the biomass was assessed compared to the 2018 data.
It contrasted with a 2020 report by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation which found of the five Spanish mackerel fisheries stretching across northern Australia, only the Gulf of Carpentaria fishery was ‘depleting’.
It found the other fisheries in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland’s east coast and Torres Strait were sustainable.
Ban could be devastating
Ms Bauer said any ban on fishing the species would harm the local seafood industry and be difficult to enforce without banning all types of mackerel fishing.
She added that Spanish mackerel was not known to be a catch-and-release fish, with generally poor survivability if released by anglers who were targeting other species.
Fisheries Queensland said the stock assessment was undergoing independent scientific peer review, to be published in the coming months.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said there has been no decision on management changes to the Spanish mackerel fishery and no changes to recreational fishing, yet.
The Department will hold public consultations before instituting any changes to regulations.
NSW fishermen on notice too
The east coast Spanish mackerel fishery also includes New South Wales, with that state’s industry also likely to be impacted by any changes to fishing regulations.
The Fisheries Queensland working group will meet later this month to discuss potential changes to fishing rules for all sectors, which could include a closure to allow stocks to recover.