- Better Choice
- Sand whiting are caught using haul seine nets, and to a lesser extent gillnets, in NSW.
- Stocks of sand whiting in NSW are considered healthy.
- The nets used to catch sand whiting generally have a low impact on habitat.
- Fishery impacts on threatened species appear minimal, although there has been no independent observer coverage in recent years.
- The fishery that catches sand whiting also catches overfished mulloway, but most sand whiting are caught using a method that facilitates the healthy release of mulloway bycatch.
Sand Whiting are the smaller, cheaper cousin of the well-regarded King George Whiting. Like other Whitings in the family, Sand Whiting have fine white flesh with a delicate flake and a mild, sweet flavour. They are an affordable and easy-to-use fish, available either whole or ‘butterflied’ with most of their bones already removed. Try Sand Whiting pan-fried or on the BBQ. They can also be crumbed and fried for delicious results. Fine ‘pin-bones’ will dissolve with the application of high heat, and do not need to be removed prior to cooking.
- NSW Estuary General Fishery (92t in 2019/20)
Sand whiting (also named ‘summer whiting’ in QLD) are found along the entire eastern coastline of Australia, as well as in Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. They inhabit shallow coastal and estuarine waters, over sandy substrates, where they predate on benthic invertebrates.
They are caught commercially in NSW and QLD (which is the largest commercial fishery). Recreational harvest is highly significant, taking 2-3x the commercial catch in NSW.
Stocks of sand whiting in NSW are considered healthy, as commercial catches are stable compared to fishery catch records, indicating that overfishing is not occurring.
Fishing for sand whiting generally takes place in estuaries using mostly haul seine nets and to a lesser extent gillnet fishing methods, 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 this fishery has a low catch of threatened and protected species based on previous independent observer records of bycatch in the fisheries, although there has been no observer coverage to verify logbook reporting of threatened species interaction reporting since 2009.
The fishing methods used to catch sand whiting have minimal impacts on marine habitat. In addition, the fisheries operate in areas that are afforded some protection by marine parks.
This fishery also catches mulloway, a species that is overfished in NSW. The fisheries that take the majority of sand whiting do not catch a high proportion of mulloway caught in NSW, so are unlikely to be significantly affecting the health of the population.
- Eat Less
- Sand whiting are caught in commercial gillnet and tunnel net fisheries in coastal waters, estuaries and river mouths in QLD, NSW and VIC waters.
- Stocks of Sand whiting appear healthy.
- Gillnets catching Sand whiting may 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 Sand whiting is a more sustainable option, as it has only negligible impact on bycatch species.
Note: Moreton Bay tunnel netters have developed a code of conduct to protect threatened species, fishing is low impact and would result in a green rating. Moreton Bay tunnel net caught sand whiting can be identified by the ‘Moreton Bay Fresh’ label.
- QLD East Coast Inshore Fishery (145t in 2019, 177t in 2018)
Sand whiting are found along the entire eastern coastline of Australia, as well as in Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. They inhabit shallow coastal and estuarine waters, over sandy substrates, where they predate on benthic invertebrates. They are caught in commercial fisheries in QLD and NSW.
Sand whiting are mostly caught in gillnets, and to a lesser extent in tunnel nets, in QLD.
A scientific assessment of the Sand whiting population and modernised management arrangements for the fishery has recently been introduced, which is welcome. The Sand whiting population is reasonably healthy, and there are plans to rebuild the fishery to highly sustainable levels in future.
Sand whiting 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 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. 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 sand whiting 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.
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 sand whiting score a green or ‘Better Choice’ rating, and the product can be identified by the ‘Moreton Bay Fresh’ brand label.