Southern Squid Jig Fishery

​​Chapter 13: Southern Squid Jig Fishery

T Emery and R Curtotti

Figure 13.1 (a) Commonwealth Trawl Sector squid catch and (b) relative fishing intensity in the Southern Squid Jig Fishery, 2017
Figure 13.1 (a) Commonwealth Trawl Sector squid catch and (b) relative fishing intensity in the Southern Squid Jig Fishery, 2017 continued
TABLE 13.1 Status of the Southern Squid Jig Fishery
Biological status Fishing mortality BiomassFishing mortalityBiomass 
Gould's squid (Nototodarus gouldi)Not subject to overfishingNot overfishedNot subject to overfishingNot overfishedIn 2017, catch and effort in the SSJF decreased relative to 2016, while in the CTS they were similar. Catch and effort in both fisheries remained lower than the long-term average. Catch rates in the SSJF declined in 2017, while catch rates in the CTS were stable.
Economic statusLatent effort in the fishery remains high, and catch and effort in the fishery declined from 2016 to 2017. This suggests that the economic incentive to fish and NER in the fishery are low.

Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. NER Net economic returns.

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13.1 Description of the fishery

Area fished

The Southern Squid Jig Fishery (SSJF) is located off New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, and in a small area off southern Queensland. Most fishing takes place off Portland, Victoria (Figure 13.1). Australian jig vessels typically operate at night in continental-shelf waters between depths of 60 and 120 m. Squid are also caught in the Commonwealth Trawl Sector (CTS) and the Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector (GABTS). In recent years, more squid has been landed collectively from these sectors than from the SSJF.

Fishing methods and key species

The SSJF is a single-method (jigging), single-species fishery, targeting Gould’s squid (Nototodarus gouldi)Up to 10 automatic jig machines are used on each vessel; each machine has two spools of heavy line, with 20–25 jigs attached to each line. High-powered lamps are used to attract squid. Squid are also caught in the CTS and the GABTS by demersal trawling.

Management methods

The Commonwealth SSJF is managed by the Australian Government, whereas jigging operations within coastal waters (inside the 3 nautical mile limit) are generally managed by the relevant state government.

The species’ short life span, fast growth and sensitivity to environmental conditions result in highly variable recruitment and strongly fluctuating stock sizes, making it difficult to estimate biomass before a fishing season. Therefore, the SSJF harvest strategy (AFMA 2007) relies on within-season monitoring against catch triggers for the jig and trawl sectors. Exceeding catch, fishing effort or catch-per-unit-effort triggers may signal the need for assessment and review of management arrangements. The current harvest strategy does not set escapement targets (that is, a proportion of the spawning biomass that is not fished and allowed to spawn) to limit the percentage of biomass removed in a season. Current harvest strategies based on catch-and-effort triggers have been implemented because of difficulties in collecting real-time catch, effort and size data, and growth estimates needed for within-season depletion analyses. Because of the current low fishing effort and conservative trigger limits, a move towards a more responsive management approach is not currently considered a high priority.

Squid are listed as a ‘permitted species’ in the state-managed commercial fisheries of Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales, whereas no regulations apply to squid in Victorian commercial fisheries (AFMA 2014).

Fishing effort

In 2017, there were 4,900 gear statutory fishing rights (SFRs), eight active vessels and a total fishing effort of 1,332 jig-hours in the SSJF (Table 13.2). Despite brief increases in effort in 2011 and 2012, annual jig fishing effort has been below the long-term average since 2006 (Figure 13.2). High costs relative to revenue, combined with the highly variable biomass or availability of the stock, are the main reasons for the reduced effort since 2008. Following increased effort in 2015 and 2016, effort declined in 2017 due to the difficulty in locating squid aggregations and reduced catches, with fish processors not able to source enough squid (AFMA 2017). Trawling effort in the CTS and the GABTS is discussed in Chapters 9 and 11, respectively.

TABLE 13.2 Main features and statistics for the SSJF
Fishery statistics a20162017
FisheryTAECatch (t)Value


SSJF550 standard jigging machines b384$1.05 million550 standard jigging machines b213$0.57 million
CTS542$1.43 million569$1.54 million
GABTS55$0.14 million46$0.13 million
Total 981 $2.57 million 828 $2.24 million

Fishery-level statistics

Effort1,733 jig-hours1,332 jig-hours
Gear SFRs c5,1004,900
Active vessels78
Observer coverage00
Fishing methods

Squid jig

Primary landing ports

Hobart (Tasmania), Portland and Queenscliff (Victoria)

Management methods

Input controls: gear SFRs, number of jig machines

Primary markets

Domestic: Melbourne—fresh

International: Canada, China, Hong Kong

Management plan

Southern Squid Jig Fishery Management Plan 2005

a The SSJF fishing season is 1 January – 31 December. Value statistics are by financial year and are in 2016–17 dollars. b Defined in the Southern Squid Jig Fishery Management Plan 2005 as a squid jigging machine that has two elliptical spools with one jig line on each spool. c Gear SFRs are fishing rights that allow fishers to use a defined type and quantity of fishing gear. Operators in 2017 require 9.09 SFRs to be nominated to their boat for each standard squid jigging machine they use.
Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. GABTS Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector. SFR Statutory fishing right. TAE Total allowable effort. Not applicable.

Figure 13.2 Effort, number of permits and number of active vessels in the SSJF, 1996–2017

Note: Permits were replaced by gear statutory rights in 2005.

13.2 Biological status

Gould's squid (Nototodarus gouldi)

Gould's squid (Nototodarus gouldi) 

Line drawing: FAO

Stock structure

Gould’s squid is assumed to be a single biological stock throughout southern Australian waters. Genetic studies support this hypothesis (Jackson & McGrath-Steer 2003). Analysis of statoliths has shown that some Gould’s squid caught in Victorian waters and the Great Australian Bight were hatched in a number of different regions off southern Australia (Virtue et al. 2011), with genetic homogeneity more a function of egg mass and juvenile drift as a result of seasonal longitudinal ocean currents rather than of large-scale migrations between the two areas (Green et al. 2015).

Catch history

Before the commencement of the SSJF, Japanese commercial jig vessels fished waters off southern Australia in the 1970s and in the southern Australian Fishing Zone in the 1980s under joint-venture partnerships with Australian companies. The highest catch of Gould’s squid from south-eastern Australian waters (7,914 t) was taken by Japanese jig vessels in 1979–80. Commercially viable jig catch rates were also achieved in south-eastern waters, particularly in western Bass Strait, proving the feasibility of a fishery for Gould’s squid. Taiwanese and Korean vessels were also licensed to fish in Bass Strait until 1988, with annual catches ranging from 13 to 2,309 t.

In 2017, 828 t of squid was reported across the three squid fishery sectors—SSJF (213 t), CTS (569 t) and GABTS (46 t)—a decrease from 981 t in 2016 (Table 13.2). Total annual reported catch of Gould’s squid by all methods was less than 1,000 t between 2008 and 2010, before a brief period of higher catches in both the CTS and the SSJF in 2011 and 2012 (Figure 13.3). Low catch levels in 2014 were largely attributed to lower levels of fishing effort and exploratory fishing of new fishing grounds (Figure 13.2).

During the past 10 years, SSJF annual catches have fluctuated between 1,569 t in 2005 and 2 t in 2014. In the CTS, the annual catch has ranged between 260 and 944 t, increasing to 569 t in 2017, up from 542 t in 2016. In the GABTS, the annual catch peaked in 2006 at 261 t, but has been much lower in recent years.

In 2017, the nominal annual average catch rate from the jig fishery continued to decline to 160 kg/hour from a historical high of 253 kg/hour in 2015 (Figure 13.4).

The total catch of Gould’s squid in Tasmanian-managed waters in 2016–17 was 176 t. This was a large decrease from 325 t in 2015–16. Most of the catch in 2016–17 was taken from the south-east coast of Tasmania and around King Island (Moore, Lyle & Hartmann 2018).

Figure 13.3 Squid catch in the SSJF, the CTS and the GABTS, 1986–2017
Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. GABTS Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector. SSJF Southern Squid Jig Fishery.
Figure 13.4 Nominal catch rate of Gould’s squid in the SSJF, the CTS and the GABTS, 1996–2017
Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. GABTS Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector. SSJF Southern Squid Jig Fishery
Stock assessment

Gould’s squid is short lived, with a maximum life span of 12 months (Jackson & McGrath-Steer 2003). The fishery is therefore entirely dependent on annual recruitment. The squid display highly variable growth, and size and age at maturity. Once mature, they will spawn until they die, and recruitment is highly variable (Jackson & McGrath-Steer 2003; Virtue et al. 2011). These characteristics mean that stock biomass can rapidly increase when environmental conditions are favourable and fluctuate substantially between years.

In 2008, the Squid Resource Assessment Group analysed catch, catch rates and effort from 2000 to 2007 for four regions in the SSJF. Only one region—the central region from Cape Otway in Victoria to Robe in South Australia—had fishing levels that could cause depletion. During the 2001 fishing season, high catch rates were reported for the central region, and the total jig fishery catch was the second highest on record (Figure 13.3). A preliminary depletion analysis of the central region using jig catch-and-effort data indicated that, despite the high catches, the stock was not overfished in that region in that year.

ABARES conducted further depletion analyses for the central region of the SSJF for 1995–2006 (Barnes, Ward & Boero 2015). The initial depletion curve results show stock declines during most seasons, with escapement in five seasons estimated to be between 30 and 40 per cent. However, these results are for only one region of the fishery and do not indicate exploitation rates for the whole stock. Limited data are available on squid growth in this region. Interpretation of the depletion estimates is further complicated by the lack of an agreed estimate of natural mortality, the possible presence of multiple cohorts each year (as a result of multiple spawning events) and a lack of knowledge about squid movement in the region. Application of a depletion analysis to guide within-season management decisions under the harvest strategy will require improved real-time fishery monitoring throughout the fishing season.

Squid are visual predators, and poor jig catch rates in some seasons (1998 and 2000) have been reported by industry as being due to rough seas and reduced water clarity. Furthermore, nominal jig catch rates might not provide a reliable index of squid abundance because of the aggregating effect of lights used during fishing operations.

Trawl catch rates from the CTS have been stable over the past 15 years, suggesting long-term stability in the availability, and perhaps biomass, of Gould’s squid in the areas trawled (see the CTS and the GABTS in Figure 13.4). The 2012 average trawl catch rate for Gould’s squid in the CTS was the highest reported in the past 20 years. The extent to which squid are targeted on trawl grounds is unclear.

Stock status determination

The high historical catches taken by foreign vessels in the late 1970s and 1980s indicate that a large annual harvest can be taken from the stock in years of high abundance without greatly reducing recruitment and biomass for subsequent seasons. The results of retrospective depletion analysis and relatively stable catch rates (with the exception of the 2014 season, when effort declined) indicate that the stock has not been overfished in any season. As a result, the Gould’s squid stock is classified as not overfished. Reduced SSJF catch levels during 2014 were attributed to a low availability of squid in traditional fishing grounds, combined with unfavourable prices that discouraged fishing. In 2015 and 2016, effort in the fishery increased as a result of higher market prices and improved access to domestic markets; however, effort declined again in 2017 due to the difficulty in locating squid aggregations and reduced catches. Total effort in 2017 was lower than the long-term average, and both squid jig and trawl nominal annual average catch rates have been relatively stable except for 2014. The stock is thus classified as not subject to overfishing.

13.3 Economic status

Key economic trends​

Low fishing effort resulted in the lowest SSJF catch on record in 2014 (2 t). Catch in the SSJF has since increased to 384 t in 2016 and 213 t in 2017, with a value of $0.57 million in 2016–17 (Figure 13.5). Squid also contributed $1.54 million in the CTS and $0.13 million in the GABTS during 2016–17.

Effort levels in the fishery decreased from 1,733 jig-hours in 2016 to 1,332 jig-hours in 2017. Increased effort and catch from the low levels of 2014 suggest that the incentive to fish and potentially net economic returns (NER) improved between 2015 and 2017.

The lack of a reliable supply for the domestic market has restricted the development of processing facilities. Most vessels operating in the SSJF do not have onboard refrigeration or processing facilities. The catch is chilled on board but must be returned to port each morning for processing or freezing, limiting the total amount of squid that can be taken on each trip. Catch volume and value in the SSJF are still low relative to other Commonwealth fisheries. It could be expected that NER are also likely to be comparatively low.

Figure 13.5 Real GVP and average unit prices in the SSJF, 2006–07 to 2016–17
Notes: GVP Gross value of production.

Management arrangements

The short life span of squid, a weak relationship between recruitment and stock abundance, and high interannual variability in squid abundance or availability mean that a biomass target such as BMEY (the biomass producing maximum economic yield) is not considered to be appropriate for the SSJF. Instead of a biomass target, the fishery’s harvest strategy has a 3,000 t catch trigger to initiate a formal stock assessment. This aims to prevent depletion in the SSJF, by allowing catches above the trigger level only if they are justified by assessment results (AFMA 2007). The trigger has not been reached since the harvest strategy was implemented in 2007.

The SSJF is managed using input (effort limit) controls. In the absence of formal stock assessments, total allowable effort (TAE) in the fishery has been set by the Squid Resource Assessment Group and the South East Management Advisory Committee at levels that maintain the capacity of the fleet to respond to changes in markets or the availability of squid. There has been no economic basis for setting the fishery’s TAE (AFMA 2007).

While there is a high degree of latent effort in the fishery, this allows the fishery to respond quickly to an increase in squid abundance or price (AFMA 2017). The number of squid jigging machines allocated to gear SFRs is determined by dividing the TAE for the fishing year by the total number of gear SFRs for the fishing season. In 2017, the TAE was 550 standard jigging machines, with 4,900 gear SFRs present in the fishery, meaning that each jigging machine required 9.09 gear SFRs. Although the level of gear SFR latency (unused gear) has been variable in the SSJF, it has persisted at high levels since 1996, with only eight vessels active in 2017. This suggests that market factors rather than management arrangements have constrained effort.

Performance against economic objective

The catch trigger approach implemented in the SSJF has no clear link to economic performance, so it is difficult to determine how well the fishery is meeting the economic objective of the Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy (DAFF 2007).

Despite effort increasing in recent fishing seasons, high levels of latent fishing effort have persisted in the SSJF. Reducing this latent effort may be beneficial for the fishery by preventing the entry of excessive capacity in profitable years when prices are high. However, a lower TAE would need to be supported by a well-functioning market for unused gear SFRs to ensure that the fishery can still optimise the exploitation of a variable stock in years of increased abundance and high prices.

13.4 Environmental status

The SSJF is included on the List of Exempt Native Specimens under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and therefore has export approval until 9 October 2026. There were no additional recommendations under this exemption.

The ecological risk assessment of the fishery, completed in 2006, did not identify any threats to the environment from jig fishing (AFMA 2009; Furlani et al. 2007). The SSJF is a highly selective fishery with little bycatch. Occasionally, schools of pelagic sharks, especially blue shark (Prionace glauca)are attracted by the schooling squid, and barracouta (Thyrsites atun)frequently attack squid jigs. The main effect of these interactions is damage to, or loss of, fishing gear; consequently, these species are avoided, with operators usually moving to another area when such interactions occur. Some gear is lost at times; it sinks to the seabed because of line weights.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority publishes quarterly logbook reports of interactions with species that are protected under the EPBC Act. No interactions were reported for the SSJF in 2017. The occurrence of fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) near working jig vessels has been raised as a possible concern in the past. However, observers on jig vessels in 2002 found no evidence of negative effects on seals from jigging. Observer records in 2005 and 2007 did not identify any effects on seals (Arnould 2002).

13.5 References

AFMA 2007, Southern Squid Jig Fishery harvest strategy, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Canberra.

—— 2009, Ecological risk management: report for the Southern Squid Jig Fishery, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2014, Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery management arrangements booklet May 2014, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2017, ‘Southern Squid Jig Fishery Resource Assessment Group (SquidRAG) meeting 22’, meeting record, 16 October 2017, AFMA, Canberra

Arnould, JPY 2002, Southern Squid Jig Fishery—seal interaction project: report on observations of interactions between fur seals and fishing vessels, report to AFMA, Canberra.

Barnes, B, Ward, P & Boero, V 2015, ‘Depletion analyses of Gould’s squid in the Bass Strait’, in J Larcombe, R Noriega & I Stobutzki (eds), Reducing uncertainty in fisheries stock status, ABARES, Canberra.

DAFF 2007, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy: policy and guidelines, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.

Furlani, D, Ling, S, Hobday, A, Dowdney, J, Bulman, C, Sporcic, M & Fuller, M 2007, Ecological risk assessment for the effects of fishing: Southern Squid Jig Sub-fishery, report to AFMA, Canberra.

Green, CP, Robertson, SG, Hamer, PA, Virtue, P, Jackson, GD & Moltschaniwskyj, NA 2015, ‘Combining statolith element composition and Fourier shape data allows discrimination of spatial and temporal stock structure of arrow squid (Nototodarus gouldi)’, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, vol. 72, no. 11, pp. 1609–18.

Jackson, GD & McGrath-Steer, BL 2003, Arrow squid in southern Australian waters: supplying management needs through biological investigations, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 1999/112, Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Moore, B, Lyle, J & Hartmann, K 2018 Tasmanian scalefish fishery assessment 2016/17, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Virtue, P, Green, C, Pethybridge, H, Moltschaniwskyj, N, Wotherspoon, S & Jackson, G 2011, Arrow squid: stock variability, fishing techniques, trophic linkages—facing the challenges, final report to FRDC, project 2006/12, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Andrew Sampaklis, ABARES
Last reviewed:
22 Oct 2018