- Say No
- Eastern school whiting is a fast-growing species of fish found only around southeastern Australia caught by Danish seine and bottom trawl fishing methods in Commonwealth-managed fisheries.
- Eastern school whiting populations are around healthy levels, though there is concern fishing pressure in a NSW-managed fishery which fishes the same population exceeded sustainable levels in recent years.
- Eastern school whiting are mostly caught in shallow waters by fishing vessels using Danish seine nets that operate out of Lakes Entrance in Victoria. The fishery is part of the Commonwealth-managed Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF), which is Australia’s largest source of locally caught finfish for the domestic market.
- The fishery catches some threatened species such as Australian fur seals, shortfin mako sharks and seabirds, although industry has been proactive in trying to reduce mortalities of these vulnerable species. Danish seine fishing can facilitate the healthy release of unwanted bycatch, though impacts of the fishery cannot be reliably quantified due to inadequate independent scrutiny of fishing operations.
- The fishery operates around a major global ocean heating hotspot but does not explicitly account for climate change when setting future catch limits. Significant research in this area is welcome, but is overdue.
- Significant research has been undertaken into the ecosystem impacts of the fishery, but marine park protections needed to address these are seriously inadequate. If improved, this could significantly increase the resilience of target and bycatch species, and vulnerable seafloor habitats.
- The fishery is expected to undergo its second round of major reforms, and implement vital camera monitoring across the fleet in coming years. This has the potential to significantly improve the GoodFish ranking of this fishery in future.
Whiting is versatile and easy to use with delicate white flesh. It has a fine flake and mild sweet flavour. Whiting is a great fish to pan fry or BBQ either whole or as fillets. It can become dry if overcooked, so a coating such as a crumb or batter is often used to protect the flesh from direct heat. Try pan frying or deep-frying after coating. Whole fish can be baked in the oven with a little oil, lemon and salt. Whiting’s delicate flesh also suits it to steaming, which will help keep it juicy and moist. Final note: Paired with fresh bread and crisp lettuce, fried whiting makes for one of the all time simple sandwiches – give it a go!
- Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (Commonwealth Trawl Sector) (520t in 2020/21)
Eastern School Whiting are found in oceanic waters from southern Queensland to eastern Victoria and Tasmania from coastal sandflats to depths of >100m, where it is found over sandy substrates. Commercial fisheries operate in NSW and Victorian Commonwealth-managed waters, using Danish Seine and, in NSW, primarily bottom trawl fishing methods.
Eastern school whiting populations are around healthy levels, though there is concern fishing pressure in NSW-managed fisheries which target the same population exceeded sustainable levels in recent years. This may potentially lead to overfishing if not addressed in future. As they reach sexual maturity at an early age and reproduce quickly, they are relatively resilient to fishing pressure.
Most concerning is bycatch of a range of fishes which used to be primary or secondary target species of the fishery, that have been so severely overfished by the SESSF that they are now on the Australian Threatened, Endangered or Protected Species lists.
No Australian fishery has pushed more of its former target and secondary species onto our endangered species lists, and there is no evidence of recovery for most of these species. Special rebuilding strategies that allow these species to be caught and sold while holding this protected status are largely failing to deliver sufficient if any actual rebuilding.
Without major reform, AMCS expects more species caught by the SESSF to be placed on the Australian endangered species list than will recover off it in the foreseeable future.
At time of assessment the SESSF trawl fishery that catches eastern school whiting was likely to undergo an expensive taxpayer-funded bailout (for the second time since 2006) aimed at reducing the number of fishing vessels and closing part of the fishing grounds, because it is no longer possible for the fishery to catch targeted species while avoiding dangerously overfished species sufficiently to allow them to recover.
The SESSF operates around a global ocean heating hotspot, warming at almost four times the global average. While serious climate impacts have been attributed to declining SESSF fish stocks for around a decade, there is still no explicit consideration of climate impacts when setting future catch limits. Significant research is underway in this area, which is welcome but overdue.
There has been considerable investment in scientific research around the ecosystem and habitat impacts of the fishery, but this has not been supported by sufficient implementation of meaningful protections from fishing and climate-related impacts in the fishery, which have both been severe. Commonwealth waters marine parks are in place throughout the fishery but were designed primarily to avoid key fishing grounds, so confer little benefit. While marine parks should be a valuable and cost-effective tool for protecting vulnerable species and habitats; providing both resilience and a scientific resource to manage climate impacts; they (along with existing fishery area closures), protect only 0.9% of the most heavily fished habitat assemblage in the fishery. Improving marine park protection will be critical to addressing and rebuilding the future sustainability of the SESSF fishery.
Independent monitoring of the part of the SESSF that catches eastern school whiting has been insufficient to ensure robust information is collected on protected species bycatch and fish discarding, which can occur when fish are caught in trawl nets that the fisher holds no quota for, so cannot land without financial penalty. This creates significant risk as it impedes managers in reliably calculating the total impact (of all fishery mortality from retained plus the fish caught but thrown back) on fish stocks from the fishery. The fishery is set to introduce video monitoring across the fleet in 2024 which is welcome and could substantially address this issue, but it is notable that improving this information collection was also a condition of a fishery reform process in 2006 that was not followed through.