Australian salmon - exploding the myths

The Australian salmon needs little introduction to beach fisherman along the southern coastline of out continent. Sought by recreational fisherman because of its fighting qualities, salmon are also a significant commercial fish extending along the southern coastline from Sydney in the east to Perth in the west.

The Australian salmon can be grouped into several different races, or populations. The western and western sub-species are found along the southern Australian coastline and there is evidence of separate populations around Lord Howe Island and in New Zealand waters where they are known as "kahwai". The population around Tasmania is comprised predominantly of the eastern sub-species. Australian salmon are also known locally as salmon, and bay trout.

Commercial beach seining for Australian salmon began in 1958 and historically, landings from this fishery have been at significant levels, making it one of Tasmania's largest finfish fisheries. Since 1958, the commercial catch has remained remarkably stable at around 700 tonnes per year with fluctuations due mainly to weather conditions and marketing constraints rather than availability. Preliminary results from research being undertaken by the Tasmanian Department of Sea Fisheries in conjunction with commercial fishers appears to confirm anecdotal evidence from fisherman that the average length of fish taken in the commercial fishery has increased by up to 50 mm, with the average length now being in excess of 400 mm.

The recreational catch is thought to be considerable although the total tonnage is unknown. Whilst commercial fishers target schooled fish which do not readily take a baited hook or lure, recreational fishers target offshore, feeding patches of fish spread out on the surface, usually accompanied by seabirds, or alternatively they target scattered fish travelling through inshore gutters.

The Australian salmon fishery in Tasmania is considered by many to be the most stable fishery in Australia, with a constant catch rate for over thirty years, no increase in fishing effort to achieve that catch, an increase in the average length of fish caught and minimal management costs.

To date there has been little management of the fishery. Conservative fishing practices and marketing constraints combined with the native cunning and adaptability of the Australian salmon have been the limiting factors preventing an increase in commercial exploitation.

Clearly, this form of management is unacceptable in the long term and the Tasmanian Department of Sea Fisheries has moved to introduce a management plan for the commercial fishery designed to cap the number of fishers and prevent an increase in catches. This is strongly supported by the major participants in the fishery as it will ensure the long term sustainability if the fish stocks as well as providing the recreational fishers with satisfaction of knowing that Australian salmon will continue, to be available, in the future for them, their children, and their children's children.

Where are you going to catch an Australian salmon? Lesson number one is that salmon are easily frightened and do not like pollution. Off road vehicles and motorbikes driven along the beach have the same effect as outboard motors and the slap of waves against an aluminium boat in frightening fish. Once frightened, most schooling pelagic fish, including salmon, disperse as a defence mechanism and head offshore at high speed. When the school does reform it may not return to the same area. Similarly, travelling schools of salmon have been observed dispersing and by-passing areas of pollution emanating from industrial sewerage discharges, sometimes reforming in cleaner waters many miles distant. When salmon are "timid" they regularly seek the protection of rocky outcrops and kelp or weed beds until they are ready to venture out into the open surf beaches as they commence their annual winter migration north to Victoria and New South Wales.

If the recreational angler takes heed of the following simple tips, there is no reason why they shouldn't enjoy the thrill if fighting a big "buck" Australian salmon and taking home a good feed for the pan.

1. When you see a school of fish feeding on the surface, normally accompanied by seabirds, don't troll through the school. Try drifting downwind with your engine stopped and cast a silver wobbler into the school.

2. Don't drive your off-road vehicle along the beach to your favourite spot and expect to catch fish. You have probably already frightened them off-shore.

3. As a rule of thumb, salmon will be scarce within about 3 kms of a boat launching ramp, sewerage outfall, or industrial waste discharge.

4. Smaller "cockie" salmon will be found around river mouths, but the big fish will be found along open surf beaches or holed up over rocky outcrops or weed beds.

5. During the day, try fishing from the beach. Look for a gutter inside a sand bank, preferably near a rip that will stir up feed for a marauding salmon.

6. At crack of dawn or, at dusk try fishing off the rocks at daylight adjacent to a beach. Australian salmon quite often move off the rocks at daylight to feed inside gutters during the day or alternatively will be returning to the rocks after feeding at night. For whatever reason, salmon move around the most at dawn and again at dusk.

7. The most important rule is SILENCE IS GOLDEN AND STEALTH IS IMPERATIVE - A frightened salmon will not bite, but just bolt for safety. Good fishing! Stuart Richey.

Information for this article has come from:
1. "Fishery status report: The Tasmanian Beach Seine Fishery", by Grant Pullen and Loise Wyden for the Sea Fisheries Division, Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries.
2. "Australian Salmon Span Our Continent", an article by Dr. Bruce Malcolm.
3. "Fishery situation report 5. Australian Salmon", by Dr. CA Stanley from the South Eastern Fisheries Committee of the Standing Committee on Fisheries.
4. Personal observations and fishing log book data collected over the last 37 years.

Profile of Stuart Richey
Professional fisherman for 28 years concentrating mainly on Australian salmon but with considerable experience in the scallop, shark and trawl fisheries.
Director of Richey Fishing Co. Pty Ltd. Deputy Chairman of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFAM), a Commonwealth statutory authority established in 1992 to manage fish resources under Commonwealth jurisdiction.

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