Back to FISH Vol 29 4
PUBLISHED 30 Nov 2021

NSW is investigating how to incorporate recreational fisher objectives into its fishery harvest strategies for Snapper, Mulloway and Yellowtail Kingfish

By Barbara Adam

Man with fishing rod holding Yellowtail Kingfish with blue ocean behind
Recreational fishers land more than half the NSW catch of Yellowtail Kingfish. Photo: Al McGlashan


While harvest strategies are recognised as world’s best practice when it comes to sustainable fishery management, most focus exclusively on commercial fishing, even when the recreational catch is as large or larger than the commercial catch.

As the New South Wales Government rolls out the development of harvest strategies across the state’s fisheries, it is keen to ensure recreational fishers are taken into account.

Ashley Fowler, a fisheries research scientist with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), is leading an FRDC-funded research project looking at how to do this. His project is focused on the stocks of three species of fish that are popular with Indigenous, commercial and recreational fishers in NSW: Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus), Mulloway (Argyrosomus japonicus) and Yellowtail Kingfish (Seriola lalandi).

Harvest strategies are a proactive way of integrating the systems and processes for monitoring the stock of a defined fishery and identifying predefined actions to maintain sustainable stock levels when changes occur, such as changing catch quotas or bag limits.

“Harvest strategies work because they’re built around achieving stakeholder objectives,” says Fowler.

"Over the last few decades, it’s become clear that the recreational catch is high for several species including Snapper, Mulloway and Yellowtail Kingfish. That makes it important that we include recreational fishers in harvest strategies for these species.


“The first step in developing a harvest strategy is to have all stakeholders involved and work out what they want to achieve in terms of their fishing. Integrating all sectors is important because the recreational sector might have different objectives to the Aboriginal cultural sector or the commercial sector, depending on the species.”

Gathering data

Commercial fishers provide catch data frequently, but data about the recreational fishing catch is more challenging to obtain. NSW DPI surveys the catch of the state’s recreational fishers every two years.

Based on surveys conducted in 2017–18, the latest report estimates licensed recreational fishers caught 451,427 Snapper during the year, with 65 per cent released. The report also found the state-wide catch of Mulloway was 27,173 fish, with 50 per cent released. The Yellowtail Kingfish catch was 107,865 fish, with 58 per cent released.

When combined with commercial catch figures for 2017–18, the recreational fishing catch landed represented 38 per cent of Snapper caught, 56 per cent of Mulloway and 58 per cent of Yellowtail Kingfish.

The recreational catch is converted to a weight measurement using the average weight of fish caught multiplied by the number of fish caught. This is added to the commercial harvest to create a state total for each species.

According to the Status of Australian Fish Stocks Reports 2020, stocks of Snapper and Yellowtail Kingfish in NSW have been assessed as sustainable at the current level of fishing. However, Mulloway is classed as a depleted stock, and the harvest strategy will focus on stock recovery.

Stakeholder objectives

The first stage of the project reviewed existing data on recreational fishing in the state. The second stage gathered recreational fishing stakeholders together to identify their objectives for each of the three species.

Earlier this year, groups of experienced recreational fishers took part in workshops to identify their fishing objectives, and data from these events is being analysed. Fowler says the research team will conduct telephone surveys in 2022 with some of the state’s 432,000 recreational fishing licence holders, seeking information about their fishing objectives.

These individuals will be randomly selected and there will also be a web-based survey open to all recreational fishers in NSW. Written material accompanying the survey will be translated into several languages, recognising that the state’s recreational fishing community is culturally diverse.

FRDC General Manager for Strategy and Innovation Matt Barwick says even though commercial and recreational fisheries often target the same resource, they can differ in their objectives in important ways.


For example, recreational fishers are often motivated by a desire to socialise, relax and enjoy a nature-based experience. In contrast, commercial fishers are trying to make a living.

How the sectors are managed also differs in significant ways. Quotas are often used to control commercial catch, while bag and size limits are applied to recreational fishing. These differences make it challenging to integrate both sectors into a single framework for managing the overall harvest.

“But it’s important that we find a way,” says Barwick. “That way, managers can have an improved overall understanding of the resource they manage, how it is going, and they can act decisively and with the support of each sector to deliver the intended results for all users.”

He says a key benefit of the harvest strategy development process is that it encourages managers and stakeholders to agree on the types of management intervention that might be required under different circumstances, before those circumstances present themselves.

“This tends to result in much more productive conversations than trying to agree on what must be done in the heat of the moment, when action must happen quickly, views can be diverse and tensions can be high.”

International tools

The NSW project will contribute to an online harvest strategy development tool called FishPath that incorporates recreational fishing. FishPath, developed by US-based non-profit The Nature Conservancy together with partner organisations CSIRO and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is an online decision-support tool for different stakeholders designed to identify viable harvest strategy options via an interactive stakeholder engagement process.

“We are in regular contact with the international FishPath development team and will provide research outputs to them to better capture the objectives and options for the recreational sector,” Fowler explains.

Each element of the project will feed into a final report, which will include guidelines and recommendations on how to develop harvest strategies for multi-sector fisheries.


Fowler says they may find that the objectives of recreational fishers for all three fish species align with those of Aboriginal cultural and commercial fishers. Conversely, the objectives of all three groups may be entirely different for all species, or for a particular species.

The final report, due in 2023, will provide information that is nationally relevant. “NSW is a great test case because it has the largest number of recreational fishers, but the project has important outcomes for any state,” says Fowler.


More information
Ashley Fowler, NSW Department of Primary Industries

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