Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery


Map showing the area of the Torres Strait Finfish Fishery 

The Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Management Plan 2013 is in effect and can be accessed on the ComLaw website.

The Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery (a sub-fishery of the Torres Strait Finfish Fishery) operates predominantly in the eastern Torres Strait, targeting the narrow-barred Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson).

In 1999, the fishery was expanded to include School Mackerel (Scomberomorus queenslandicus), Grey Mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus), Spotted Mackerel (Scomberomorus munroi) and Shark Mackerel (Grammatorcynus bicarinatus) however, Spanish Mackerel remains the main target species.

Spanish Mackerel are fished by trolling, generally from dories/dinghies operating either to a primary vessel or by themselves. The majority of the catch is taken by a small number of commercial operators.

During 2007-2008 a voluntary buy-back of all non-Traditional Inhabitant licenses was undertaken in the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery which transferred all catch entitlements to the Traditional Inhabitant sector.

These entitlements are held in trust by the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA). Entry into the fishery is limited to Traditional Inhabitants so as to maximise their economic development and employment opportunities, however non-Traditional Inhabitant fishers can still participate in the fishery through leasing an annual 'sunset' licence from the TSRA.

Leasing arrangements stipulate agreed conditions for fishing in the fishery including a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and area closures. Catch entitlements are also held in trust for Papua New Guinea as per catch-sharing arrangements outlined in the Torres Strait Treaty.

Management objectives

The objectives for the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery have been developed in conjunction with the objectives of the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 (the Act) and the Torres Strait Treaty.

The objectives are:

  • to manage the mackerel resource so as to achieve its optimal utilisation;
  • to maximise the opportunities for Traditional Inhabitants of both Australia and Papua New Guinea to participate in the commercial fishery; and
  • to promote the fishery as a line fishery.

Management arrangements

The Torres Strait Finfish Fishery is managed under the Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Management Plan 2013. The Plan covers arrangements for both the Reef-line and Spanish mackerel sub-fisheries (or sectors) of the fishery. These arrangements include all gear restrictions and size limits as specified below. The Plan is available here on the ComLaw website.

Management regulations

The following regulations apply to the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery:

  • the taking of mackerel is restricted to trolling, hand-lining and drop-lining only;
  • commercial mackerel operators are permitted to use a general purpose bait net to take bait for their own use;
  • an allowance of up to 20 kgs of Spanish Mackerel and/or reef fish may be carried at any one time by all holders of a Torres Strait fishing licence granted under section 19(2) or 19(3) of the Act; and
  • minimum legal size limits measured from the snout to caudal fin tip apply to the following mackerel species:
Species Size (mm)
Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) 750
Spotted Mackerel (Scomberomorus munroi) 600
School Mackerel (Scomberomorus queenslandicus) 500
Grey Mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus) 500
Shark Mackerel (Grammatorcynus bicarinatus) 500

Condition of the fishery

Information available for the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery indicates that the stock has been relatively stable during a period of several decades. Stock assessment reports for the Torres Strait Mackerel stock are available here:

2018 Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Stock Assessment - update

2016 Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Stock Assessment

2006 Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Stock Assessment

Although the Spanish Mackerel stocks in Torres Strait were once thought to be migratory and moved between jurisdictions, there is emerging evidence that there is probably limited exchange between the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria or Queensland east coast.

In 2019, 91 Traditional Inhabitant boat licences with Spanish Mackerel entries were issued to Traditional Inhabitants. Five non-Traditional Inhabitants will participate in the fishery in the 2019-20 seaosn under sunset leasing arrangements and operate under an individual catch allowance.

The PZJA estimates that 10 tonnes of Spanish mackerel is taken each year during the course of traditional fishing (e.g. for subsistence /kai-kai) and estimates that a further 2 tonnes of mackerel is likely to be taken by recreational fishers in Torres Strait. This means that annually 12 tonnes of the available catch is set aside to provide for these harvests before a commercial catch limit is decided. 

Strategic Assessment

The Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery is strategically assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has been formally accredited as a Wildlife Trade Operation.

The Department of Environment have provided a number of recommendations to improve the sustainability of the fishery. The export accreditation is valid until 18 December 2020 at which time the fishery will be re-assessed.