Though Queensland east coast Spanish mackerel spawning aggregations are highly predictable in both space and time, little is known about the impacts of the sustained fishing pressure these aggregations receive annually. Common anecdote from long-term commercial fishers reports a steady contraction of both the spatial and temporal extent of aggregations over the last decade. Further, in response to these concerns, DEWHA recommended that QPI&F consider protecting spawning aggregations of Spanish mackerel through spatial and/or temporal closures. The need to better understand Spanish mackerel spawning aggregations, and the potential effects of sustained fishing pressure has another two important bases. Firstly, the most recent 2008 fishery assessment reports the fishery is fully exploited at current harvest rates and steps should be taken to re-build stocks; and secondly, the commercial fishing sector (and to a lesser extent the recreational fishing sector) currently incorporates a large component of potential effort and harvest in the form of under utilized quota.
The potential conservation benefits of the recently expanded Marine Protected Area network within Queensland waters to Spanish mackerel spawning aggregations has yet to be quantified. Given the precarious status of this fishery, it is now mandatory to quantitatively assess the efficacy of the current reef zoning that overlay the primary spawning reefs northeast of Townsville in offering protection to vulnerable spawning aggregations. This project will address the need to better understand movement and residency behaviours by providing modeling outputs to measure and predict the benefits that may be derived by the current MPA network. The project will further expand this need by advising on the potential abilities of expanded spatial and / or temporal closures for additional Spanish mackerel protection that may be required for effective management.