- Eat Less
- Dusky flathead is mostly caught using gillnets, and also by haul seine nets, in estuaries throughout New South Wales.
- Stocks of dusky flathead in NSW are considered healthy.
- The nets used to catch dusky flathead generally have a low impact on habitats.
- Fishing targeting dusky flathead using gillnets is likely hindering the recovery of an overfished species, Mulloway.
- Bycatch of threatened and protected species may be low, but there is concern over the absence of any reliable information collection program.
Flathead is a versatile and affordable fish that will fast become a favourite of the whole family. Boneless ‘tails’ are great for the kids. These can be pan-fried, barbecued or baked in the oven for a no-fuss dinner. They are also excellent crumbed (or battered) and then pan-fried or deep-fried for perfect fish and chips. Whole flathead can be roast in a hot oven with oil, salt, lemon and herbs. They make an impressive centrepiece, and the firm moist flesh will fall easily away from the bones, making them easy to serve and eat.
- NSW Estuary General Fishery (107t in 2020)
Dusky flathead are found in estuaries, lakes and coastal bays on the east coast of Australia. They are occasionally found in fresh water, and are associated with sand, mud and seagrass soft sediment habitats. Dusky flathead are caught commercially in QLD, NSW and Victorian fishery jurisdictions. Dusky flathead are caught using demersal gillnets and haul seine methods, with the largest fishery occurring in NSW’s Estuarine General Fishery.
Dusky flathead populations in NSW appear healthy, as commercial catches are stable compared to long-term fishery catch records, indicating that overfishing is not occurring. Marine parks and extensive commercial fishing closures in estuaries likely provide a degree of protection and resilience.
Fishing for dusky flathead generally takes place in estuaries and nearshore environments using various types of nets, all of which have a low impact on habitats. As fishers are present at the nets during fishing, endangered wildlife can be released alive. It is also likely that these fisheries have a low catch of threatened and protected species based on previous independent observer records of bycatch in NSW, although there has been no observer coverage to verify logbook reporting of threatened species interaction reporting since 2009. While there is no observer coverage, it is highly unlikely that there are significant interactions with endangered wildlife.
The NSW fishery also catches mulloway, a species that is overfished in NSW. While the overfished status of mulloway is primarily a result of recreational fishing pressure, the commercial fishery has a significant catch that is likely to be hindering recovery of the species.
- Eat Less
- Dusky flathead are caught in commercial gillnet fisheries in coastal waters, estuaries and river mouths in QLD, NSW and VIC waters.
- Stocks of dusky flathead appear healthy.
- Gillnets catching dusky flathead likely also catch significant numbers of protected and vulnerable wildlife as bycatch, including turtles, dugongs and sharks and rays.
- The Moreton Bay and Great Sandy Straits marine parks provide a degree of protection for impacted species and habitats.
- The fishery observer program in QLD was cancelled in 2012, meaning there is no independent record of the impact of the fishery on threatened species. Observation of the fishery is considered essential to the management of a sustainable fishery.
- Tunnel-net caught dusky flathead is a more sustainable option, as it has only negligible impact on bycatch species.
Note: A code of practice has been developed for one sector of the fishery that operates in Moreton Bay. The code of practice details how to avoid interactions with dugongs, turtles and sharks, and devices to allow turtles to escape from tunnel nets are mandatory. Moreton Bay tunnel net-caught dusky flathead score a green or ‘Better Choice’ rating, and the product can be identified by the 'Moreton Bay Fresh' brand label.
- QLD East Coast Inshore Fishery (32t in 2019, 37t in 2018)
Dusky flathead are found in estuaries, lakes and coastal bays on the east coast of Australia. They are caught in commercial fisheries in QLD, NSW and VIC-managed fisheries.
Dusky flathead are mostly caught in gillnets, and to a lesser extent in tunnel nets, in QLD.
A scientific assessment of the dusky flathead population and modernised management arrangements for the fishery have recently been introduced, which is welcome. the Dusky flathead population is reasonably healthy, and there are plans to rebuild the fishery to highly sustainable levels in future.
Dusky flathead is mainly caught in gillnets and tunnel nets in coastal waters of a QLD-managed fishery operating off the eastern coast. Interactions with turtles have been recorded in fishing operations, although it is not clear from fishery reports how many interactions or turtle deaths have occurred. Interactions with dugongs and protected species of shark are also likely in these coastal fisheries, but there is a lack of current information on bycatch across the entire geographical range of the fishery. The small scale of most of the fishing operations and that fishers are present at the nets during fishing means endangered wildlife can be released alive.
The fishery largely operates within the Moreton Bay and Great Sandy Straits marine parks. These offer a significant degree of additional protection for targeted and secondary species, as well as threatened and vulnerable bycatch species.
Fisheries managers in QLD have also reported inconsistencies between fisheries logbook records and information from independent observers, including differences between the number, rate and type of protected species interactions. There is a high probability that protected species bycatch is higher than reported.
Independent fishery observer programs are an important method of verifying protected species interactions. Unfortunately the QLD Government closed the observer program for all QLD managed fisheries in 2012. Since that time there remains no independent on-vessel monitoring of the fishery’s impact. As this means there is no reliable record of actual protected species interactions over time, the ecological impacts of the fishery cannot be measured or managed. However, the QLD dusky flathead gillnet fishery is considered to pose a moderate risk to a range of threatened and vulnerable species.
While significant and laudable management reforms have been implemented in the east coast fishery; there has been insufficient action at time of writing to deliver improved environmental outcomes, particularly for threatened and protected species. Rankings in this fishery may be expected to improve in future.