Southern Squid Jig Fishery

​​Chapter 13: Southern Squid Jig Fishery

N Mazloumi, T Emery and R Curtotti

FIGURE 13.1 (a) Relative fishing intensity in the Southern Squid Jig Fishery and (b) Commonwealth Trawl Sector squid catch, 2018
FIGURE 13.1 (a) Relative fishing intensity in the Southern Squid Jig Fishery and (b) Commonwealth Trawl Sector squid catch, 2018 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 2018, catch and effort in the SSJF increased relative to 2017 but remained lower than the historical average (1996–2005). Intermediate or limit catch triggers were not exceeded in 2018. In 2018, catch rates in the SSJF and CTS were the highest and second highest on record, respectively.
Economic statusCatch and effort in the fishery increased from 2016–17 to 2017–18. In the same period, catch-per-unit-effort increased, suggesting lower unit fishing costs, and prices for landed catch increased. This suggests that the economic incentive to fish increased in 2017–18 and that NER in the fishery are likely to have improved.

Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. NER Net economic returns. SSJF Southern Squid Jig Fishery.

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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).

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

The species’ short life span, fast growth and sensitivity to environmental conditions result in highly variable recruitment and strongly fluctuating stock sizes (Jackson & McGrath-Steer 2003), 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. 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 low fishing effort relative to historical levels and conservative trigger limits, a move towards a more responsive management approach is not currently considered a high priority.

Fishing effort

In 2018, there were 4,900 gear statutory fishing rights (SFRs), nine active vessels and a total fishing effort of 2,281 jig-hours in the SSJF (Table 13.2). From 1996 to 2005, annual average jig fishing effort was 8,878 jig-hours before declining to just 617 jig-hours by 2010. Since 2010, annual jig fishing effort has fluctuated between 50 and 4,122 jig-hours (Figure 13.2). High costs relative to revenue and higher variability in catch-per-unit-effort are the main reasons for the reduced effort in recent years. However, in 2018, jig fishing effort increased due to improved catch rates, and higher demand and prices for the product in the domestic market (AFMA 2018b). 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 a20172018
FisheryTAECatch (t)Value
SSJF 550 standard jigging machines b213$0.57 million550 standard jigging machines b811$2.7 million
CTS 569$1.54 million784$2.4 million
GABTS46$0.13 million53$0.16 million
Total 828 $2.24 million 1,649 $5.26 million
Fishery-level statistics
Effort1,332 jig-hours2,281 jig-hours
Gear SFRs c4,9004,900
Active vessels69
Observer coverage00
Fishing methodsSquid jig
Primary landing portsHobart (Tasmania); Portland and Queenscliff (Victoria)
Management methodsInput controls: gear SFRs, number of jig machines
Primary marketsDomestic: Melbourne—fresh
International: Canada, China, Hong Kong
Management planSouthern Squid Jig Fishery Management Plan 2005

a The SSJF fishing season is 1 January – 31 December. Value statistics are by financial year. 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 Fishing rights that allow fishers to use a defined type and quantity of fishing gear. Operators in 2018 require 8.91 SFRs to be nominated to their boat for each standard squid jigging machine they use (AFMA 2018a).
Notes: CTS Commonwealth Trawl Sector. GABTS Great Australian Bight Trawl Sector. GVP Gross value of production. 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, 1996–2018

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). The genetic homogeneity is more a function of egg mass and juvenile drift as a result of seasonal longitudinal ocean currents than large-scale migrations between the two areas (Green et al. 2015).

Catch history

Before the SSJF began, 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 2018, 1,649 t of squid was reported across three sectors—SSJF (811 t), CTS (784 t) and GABTS (53 t)—up from 828 t in 2017 (Table 13.2). Catch rates improved in 2018, and the catch in 2018 was the highest in the SSJF since 2012 (Figure 13.3).

During the past 10 years, SSJF annual catches have fluctuated between 832 t in 2012 and 2 t in 2014, increasing to 213 t in 2017 and 811 t in 2018. In the CTS, the annual catch over the same period was between 944 t in 2012 and 260 t in 2014, increasing to 784 t in 2018, up from 569 t in 2017. In the GABTS, annual catch has remained fairly stable, averaging around 52 t since 2013. In 2018, the nominal average catch rate in the SSJF increased substantially to 355 kg/hr, the highest catch rate recorded in the fishery in recent history (Figure 13.4).

The Gould’s squid stock is also fished in waters managed by New South Wales and Tasmania. The total catch of Gould’s squid in Tasmanian-managed waters in 2017–18 was 528 t, which was an increase from 176 t in 2016–17 and represented a moderately high catch for the state (Moore et al. 2019). In New South Wales–managed waters, the total catch of Gould’s squid in 2017 was 7.88 t (Noriega et al. 2018).

FIGURE 13.3 Squid catch in the SSJF, the CTS and the GABTS, 1986–2018
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, 1996–2018
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), spawns multiple times during its life, and displays highly variable growth rates, and size and age at maturity (Jackson & McGrath-Steer 2003). These characteristics mean that the population may be less susceptible to fishing mortality than longer-lived species. However, its short life expectancy implies a reliance on a single cohort, meaning recruitment to the stock is susceptible to environmental and fishery impacts (Jackson & McGrath-Steer 2003; Noriega et al. 2018).

Given the highly variable nature of squid availability (in terms of abundance and location) and the lack of biomass estimates with which to set meaningful biological reference points, the Southern Squid Jig Fishery harvest strategy uses a system of within-season monitoring against precautionary catch-and-effort triggers for the jig and trawl sectors. It includes a 3,000 t intermediate catch trigger or a 30 standard vessel effort trigger, and a 5,000 t limit catch trigger in the jig sector. The intermediate trigger requires a depletion analysis to be undertaken and increased investment in monitoring and data collection, while the limit trigger requires a suspension of fishing activities pending another depletion analysis. There is also a 2,000 t limit catch trigger for the trawl sector, with a control rule equivalent to the jig sector. Lastly, both sectors have a 4,000 t combined intermediate trigger and a 6,000 t combined limit trigger, with depletion analyses requirements equivalent to those listed above for the jig sector using data from all sectors.

ABARES conducted a depletion analysis for the central region of the SSJF from Cape Otway in Victoria to Robe in South Australia for 1995–2006 (Barnes, Ward & Boero 2015). The results suggested declines in stock biomass for most seasons, with escapement in five seasons estimated to be between 30% and 40%. However, these results are for only one region of the fishery and do not indicate exploitation rates for the whole stock. Furthermore, the limited data on squid growth for the domestic fishery and lack of an agreed estimate of natural mortality affect the magnitude of depletion estimates. Given these limitations, it was noted that further depletion analysis to guide within-season management decisions under the harvest strategy will require improved real-time fishery monitoring throughout the fishing season (Barnes, Ward & Boero 2015). Given the release of the revised Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy in 2018, the Southern Squid Jig Fishery Resource Assessment Group recommended that the Southern Squid Jig Fishery harvest strategy should be reviewed, supported by an updated depletion analysis to inform the setting of revised trigger limits (AFMA 2018b).

Stock status determination

The high historical catches of Gould’s squid taken by foreign vessels in the late 1970s and the 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. These historical catches were used as a basis to set the catch triggers in the Southern Squid Jig Fishery harvest strategy, which have not been exceeded over the past decade. The relatively stable CTS catch rates in recent years suggest long-term stability in the availability, and perhaps biomass, of Gould’s squid in the areas trawled. The stock is therefore classified as not overfished. In 2018, effort in the fishery increased as a result of record high catch rates, as well as higher prices and demand on the domestic market (AFMA 2018b). However, total effort in 2018 was lower than the historical average (1996–2005), which believe has not led to an overfished stock in both the jig and trawl sectors, and therefore the stock is 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, 213 t in 2017 and 811 t in 2018, with a value of $2.7 million in 2017–18 (Figure 13.5). Squid also contributed $2.4 million in the CTS and $0.16 million in the GABTS during 2017–18.

Effort levels in the fishery increased from 1,332 jig-hours in 2017 to 2,281 jig-hours in 2018. In the same period, catch-per-unit-effort increased, suggesting lower unit fishing costs, and prices for landed catch increased. Increased effort and catch from the low levels of 2014 suggest that the incentive to fish and potentially net economic returns improved between 2015 and 2018.

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 expected that NER are also likely to be low.

FIGURE 13.5 Real GVP and average unit prices in the SSJF, 2007–08 to 2017–18
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 establishing an economic biomass target is challenging to achieve for the SSJF. Instead of a biomass target, the fishery’s harvest strategy has a 3,000 t catch trigger to initiate an assessment of the state of the stock. This aims to prevent the risk of 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 Southern Squid Jig Fishery 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.

The high degree of latent effort in the fishery allows the fishery to respond quickly to profitable opportunities provided by 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 2018, the TAE was 550 standard jigging machines, with 4,900 gear SFRs present in the fishery, meaning that each jigging machine required 8.91 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. There were 35 owners of SFRs in the 2018 season, with only 9 vessels active. 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 (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018).

Despite effort increasing in the recent fishing season, 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. Establishing a catch trigger that is closely aligned with economic performance would provide greater certainty around the level of latent effort that is desired for this fishery, but would be challenging to achieve given the life characteristics of squid and high seasonal variability in squid availability.

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 2018. The occurrence of fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) near working jig vessels has been raised as a possible concern in the past.

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, minutes, 16 October 2017’, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2018, Southern Squid Jig Fishery management arrangements booklet: season 2018, AFMA, Canberra.

—— 2018, ‘Southern Squid Jig Fishery Resource Assessment Group (SquidRAG) meeting 23, minutes, 2 October 2018’, 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.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2018, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy Policy, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, 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 (FRDC), project 1999/112, Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Moore, B, Lyle, J & Hartman, K 2019, Tasmanian scalefish fishery assessment 2017/18, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Noriega, R, Lyle, J, Hall, K & Moore, B 2018, ‘Gould’s squid (Nototodarus gouldi)’, in Status of Australian fish stocks 2018, Canberra,, accessed 4 June 2019.

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, IMAS, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Squid packed in crates
Dylan Maskey, AFMA

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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