Torres Strait Biological Sampling program

Collecting biological data on coral trout and Spanish mackerel in the Torres Strait

Note - the Torres Strait Finfish Biological Sampling Program has been funded through to June 2024. See the letter to Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Stakeholders in the documents section below.

About the research project

Torres Strait finfish are harvested from the ocean by line fishing. Fish such as coral trout and Spanish mackerel are an important traditional food source and income for communities.

The Protected Zone Joint Authority uses a stock assessment tool to set the amount of fish that are allowed to be caught each year by all fishers across the fishery. The most recent stock assessments for the Torres Strait Spanish Mackerel Fishery have shown that catch rates in the fishery appeared to be declining from 2010 to 2018 with an improvement in the 2019-20 season.

Length and age information is essential to future stock assessments for coral trout and Spanish mackerel. This information will help us understand more about the fish caught across different fishery areas.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Torres Strait Regional Authority staff is working with commercial fishers and Torres Strait communities to collect biological data from commercial catches of coral trout and Spanish mackerel. 

2020-21 Season Final Report: Torres Strait Finfish Fishery: Coral Trout and Spanish Mackerel Biological Sampling (Final Report June 2021)

2019-20 Season Final Report: Enhancing biological data inputs to Torres Strait Spanish mackerel stock assessment

This research is funded by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

Project objectives

The project will collect information on the age, sex and length of coral trout and Spanish mackerel caught by commercial fishers in the Torres Strait. It will also record the different species of coral trout caught by fishers. This information will be used in the stock assessments for these species.

Research locations

Project staff are working with Erub, Mer, Ugar, Masig and Poruma communities, fishers and fish receivers to collect information. The project is also working with non-indigenous fishers who lease annual access to the fishery through the TSRA (Sunset permit holders). The project is available to be expanded to other communities should they be able to provide samples.

Data collection

The project will involve:

  • collecting species, length, age and sex information of coral trout and Spanish mackerel from commercial catches
  • working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous commercial fishers and staff at community freezer facilities to assist in the collection of length data and fish frame samples. These samples will help determine the length, sex and age of each fish.
  • a stratified sampling design to make sure most of the fish length, sex and age information is collected at times and places where most of the fish are being caught.
  • freighting fish frames to Cairns to be processed in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Northern Fisheries Centre laboratories. The ear bones (otoliths) will be removed from the fish and used to determine the age of each fish.

Working with fishers and communities

Project staff are working with Torres Strait communities and fishers about the project. There are opportunities for fishers and community freezer facilities staff to be involved in collecting data and fish samples. The project will provide feedback on results of previous datHa collected.

How will the information be used?

The species type, length, sex and age data will provide important insights into the structure of coral trout and Spanish mackerel stocks caught by the fishery. The data will be incorporated into future Torres Strait Finfish Fishery stock assessments.

This project may provide more certainty in the catch levels set by the Protected Zone Joint Authority. This will assist the long-term health and sustainability of these fisheries and will help to maximise the catch that can be taken.

Summarised results from 2019-20 for Spanish mackerel are available (see below) and further results will be provided to communities once available. Presentations will be conducted in communities and provided to PZJA advisory committees to communicate the major project findings.


Torres Strait Biological Sampling Program funded through to June 2024, letter Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Stakeholders

Collecting biological data on coral trout and Spanish mackerel in the Torres Strait 

Project summary: Torres Strait Finfish Fishery Spanish mackerel and coral trout biological sampling

Torres Strait Spanish mackerel sampling 2019-2020 results

For more information

Andrew Trappett, Fisheries Biologist, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries:
0488 021 694