Most of the commercial catch of Eastern School Whiting is taken by the Commonwealth South East Trawl (SET) sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) in eastern Victorian waters and Bass Strait and in the NSW Ocean Trawl Fishery in central and northern NSW waters. Smaller amounts are reported from inshore state waters of southern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania (Conran et al. 2018).
Eastern School Whiting have been managed by catch quotas in Commonwealth fisheries since 1993. A Commonwealth Tier 1 stock assessment is completed every 3–5 years to estimate the recommended biological catch (RBC) for the entire biological stock. Historically, the estimated discards and average state catches were then subtracted from the RBC to set the Commonwealth total allowable catch (TAC). The most recent stock assessment in 2017, calculated an RBC of 1,606 t and the 2019–20 Commonwealth TAC was set at 788 t.
A new basket TAC for Eastern School Whiting and Stout Whiting was introduced in NSW state waters from May 2019 (set at 1,189 t for the 2019–20 fishing year). While some of this catch is likely to comprise Stout Whiting, the combined total of the two independently determined TACs could permit total catches of Eastern School Whiting that exceed the current RBC for the shared stock. Furthermore, as part of these management reforms, the NSW Southern Fish Trawl Fishery is to transition into the Commonwealth SET, which will include allocation of Commonwealth quota to existing state operators. A review of the existing cross-jurisdictional stock assessment and management arrangements for this species is urgently needed to ensure sustainable fishing continues to occur.
Critical information gaps that are hindering this process include the uncertain stock structure of Eastern School Whiting, mixed species composition of whiting in northern NSW and representativeness of biological parameters currently used in the joint stock assessment. This collaborative project between Commonwealth and state agencies aims to fill these information gaps using state-of-the-art scientific methods to increase confidence in stock assessment outputs and help develop appropriate cross-jurisdictional management arrangements.