Meet the Flatheads
How many Flathead are caught in Tassie? Flathead are the most commonly caught recreational species in Tasmania, accounting for almost two-thirds of all fish caught. Over 1.8 million flathead were caught by Tasmanian recreational fishers between December 2007 and November 2008. 1.07 million of these flathead were kept and 745 000 (around 40%) were released, showing an increasing trend toward fishers doing the right thing by releasing undersize fish.
Interesting Flattie Facts
•The annual recreational harvest of flathead is estimated at 293 tonnes, four times greater than the commercial catch of flathead from Tasmanian waters.
• 85% of the catch was taken from the central East and South East Coasts, in particular the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Norfolk-Frederick Henry Bay regions. North Coast catches were low by comparison while West Coast catches were insignificant.
• Of total catch numbers, 95% were southern sand flathead and just 3% were tiger flathead.
• Over 40% of all flathead caught were released or discarded with size being identified by recreational fishers as an important reason for release.
• The flathead fishery is seasonal, with high catch levels during summer and autumn including a strong peak in January- February and a distinct drop-off between June and September. The main fishing period between December and March accounted for almost three quarters of the annual catch.
• Numbers of flathead caught by Tasmanians during 2007-08 were similar (within 5%) to those caught during the previous survey period in 2000-01. • There has been an increase in the use of lures, particularly soft plastics, to take flathead, traditionally a bait capture species. 90% of fishers used bait during 2000-01 compared with 65% during 2007-08.
• More than 90% of flathead were taken by boat-based fishing.
Which Flathead is That?
Flathead are characterised by their flattened bodies, broad heads, eyes on the top of their heads and large mouths. They use this body shape to hide in sand and attack overhead prey. Flathead have sharp spines on their gill covers and dorsal fins. Around five different flathead species are known to inhabit our waters. Meet three of them below.
Southern Sand Flathead A.K.A: common flathead, slimy flathead, bay flathead Distinguishing features: Sandy brownish colour covered in spots that vary from white to blackish. May also have dark bands across the body and black spots on the tail fin. Can grow to around 45cm and 3 kilograms. Where: Waters all around Tasmania, preferring shallow depths of 15 - 25 metres and sandy bottoms. More common inshore in warmer months.
Tiger Flathead A.K.A: king flathead Distinguishing features: Body shape is rounder than other flatheads and colour is light brown or pinkish with orange spots. Darkish bands of colour may be present on the body. Tiger flathead have large teeth and can grow up to 65cm with fish up to 50cm commonly caught. Where: Found in deeper water than sand flathead of between 10 -160 metres depth. Distributed all around Tasmania but more commonly caught off the south and east coasts.
Southern Bluespotted Flathead A.K.A: yank flathead, Castelnau’s flathead, deepwater flathead Distinguishing features: Lighter sandy brown body with scattered small blue to white spots intermingled with dark blotches. The tail fin has dark spots surrounded by white. Can grow to up to 90cm and 8 kilograms. Where: North coast in waters up to 30 metres deep. Found on sandy bottom adjacent to seagrass beds.
Common Flathead Myths
That recreational and commercial fishers take the same species. Southern sand flathead are mostly caught by recreational fishers, whereas commercial fishers tend to target tiger flathead, with Danish seine nets accounting for most of the commercial catch of flathead from Tasmanian waters. Bottom trawl nets are not permitted in Tasmanian waters as commonly thought but are used to take tiger flathead and other scalefish in waters more than 3 nautical miles offshore from Tasmania that are managed by the Commonwealth.
Reminder Minimum size for flathead is 300mm. Possession limit for all flathead species combined is 30. Possession limits apply everywhere, including the home, so your catch at home counts toward your personal possession limit. Don’t forget, it’s a limit, not a challenge! Although the minimum size is 300 mm, responsible fishers should aim to retain only the larger size fish which give an increased meat recovery. Flathead have good survival rates when released, depending on hooks and fishing techniques used. Use circle and barbless hooks when possible to minimise hook damage.
Need more information?
• Get a copy of the Recreational Sea Fishing Guide from Service Tasmania; • visit www.fishing.tas.gov.au; or • subscribe online to have fishing news information updates emailed. • Phone 1300 368 550 or 03 6233 7042 *Catch figures and survey data from the Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute publication: 2007- 08 Survey of Recreational Fishing in Tasmania. To read the full report, go to: www.tafi.org.au or to download the summary booklet from: www. fishing.tas.gov.au