Ocean Jacket

Latin name: Nelusetta ayraudi

Common name: Leatherjacket

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Wild Caught

Commonwealth waters

Note: This amber rating is for the Great Australian Bight trawl sector of the SESSF operating in offshore SA waters. A red ranking would likely apply to the Commonwealth Trawl sector which operates in the SE fishing grounds.

Key Facts

  • Ocean jacket are caught in two trawl fisheries managed by the Commonwealth Government. Although not a target species, ocean jackets are caught in larger quantities than some of the target species.The catch comes from the continental shelf offshore of SA and southeastern Australia.
  • Ocean jacket population structure and even the species composition of catches are poorly understood. There are not likely to be serious overfishing concerns, though there are some indications that populations are slightly below a healthy level.
  • As a non-target species with a low value when sold, it is likely that significant amounts of ocean jacket are discarded from this fishery. As it is unknown what quantity is discarded, managing the stock is problematic.
  • 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.
  • The fishery discards 40-60% of the catch by weight (unwanted marine animals that are caught and thrown back overboard), with little understanding of the ecological impacts or on the stock status of discarded species.
  • 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, and marine park protections are in place in some areas of the fishery that provide an additional degree of resilience for 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.

More information

  • Commonwealth Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector, Commonwealth Trawl Sector) (351t in 2020/21).

Ocean jacket is a ubiquitous demersal predatory finfish found thoughout subtropical and temperate Australian waters (where they are considered endemic), from the Gascoyne in WA, across southern Australia to southeast QLD. Ocean jacket are found around coastal and offshore sand and reef habitats throughout the shelf and slope to depths of around 250m. Commercial fisheries operate in NSW, SA and Commonwealth waters. Ocean jackets have a relatively short life span and grow quickly. For these reasons, it is not considered as vulnerable to overfishing as other species.

Ocean jacket are caught in two different fishing sectors of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) in SA and southeastern Australian waters, which are managed by the Commonwealth Government. The species is not specifically targeted in either fishery, but is incidentally caught when fishing for other species and retained for sale. Quantities of ocean jacket caught often exceed that of some of the target species. This assessment is mostly based on the sector of the fishery that operates out of SA, as this takes the majority of the catch.

Management of ocean jacket harvest is weak in the SESSF, with no species-specific catch reporting or understanding of the extent or distribution of any individual populations. No formal scientific stock assessments have been conducted. Largely as a result of this uncertainty, it is not possible to be highly confident that populations are healthy, though there are no serious indications that overfishing is occurring.

As a non-target species with a relatively low value when sold, there is a high likelihood that significant amounts of ocean jacket are discarded from this fishery, although the amount has not been quantified. Because an unknown amount of fish is discarded, managing the stock to ensure fishing pressure is not too high is problematic.

The fishery has made significant progress in reducing protected seabird bycatch, though fur seal bycatch is potentially increasing. Seal Excluder Devices (SEDs), which act as escape hatches for seals that enter trawl nets, are mandatory. All trawl boats must have a seabird management plan in place to guide how each boat aims to reduce interactions with seabirds while actively fishing. Many of the solutions to seabird interactions have been fishing industry-led innovations and are proving highly successful in reducing these impacts.

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.

Some of the area where fishing occurs has been well mapped in order to identify the distribution of sensitive bottom-dwelling species. Trawling sometimes takes place on areas of seafloor that support sponges, hard corals and bryozoans (small invertebrates that form colonies similar to coral reefs), but it is unclear how much trawling activity is resulting in damage to habitats and associated species. Some areas of marine habitat are protected in marine parks and through other spatial closures. It is likely the fishery has had a high impact on the marine environment in the past, and spatial closures and reductions in the amount of fishing over the past two decades has reduced that impact.

Independent monitoring of the part of the SESSF  that catches ocean jacket 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.

There are concerns about the high volume of discarded, unwanted fish caught but thrown back into the sea in this fishery. Though there is no evidence that this is causing declines of other species, it cannot be discounted. ‘Discards’ can account for 40-60% of the total catch weight, and are generally thrown overboard. There is some evidence that the catch composition of the fishery is changing, which may indicate that there is an ecosystem change in the fishery which may be in part caused by fishing impacts.

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.