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Fish species opting for a sea change are making Tasmanian fishermen happy

Thirty years ago, passionate snapper fisherman Damon Sherriff was lucky to catch 10 a year in Tasmania.

In the past few years, however, he’s seen his catch rate jump.

Snapper is Damon Sherriff’s favorite recreational fish.(Supplied: Damon Sherriff)

“I’ve actually caught over 200 [snapper] per season, so it just shows you how much the species has exploded in Tasmania,” he said.

Mr Sherriff has been chasing snapper since the early 1990s and mainly fishes out of the Tamar estuary in the state’s north.

And while he also loves a fresh fillet, the catch rate for his favorite eating fish, King George whiting, has skyrocketed as well.

“The whiting is another emerging species; it’s a fish that’s always been in Tasmania like the snapper, but the last few years it’s really exploded and it’s a very common fish now.”

A man in a beanie holds up two long fish he has caught.
King George whiting is also finding Damon Sherriff’s hook off north-east Tasmania.(Supplied: Damon Sherriff)

His experience hooking more warm-water fish in Tasmanian waters is backed up by new research from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).

Scientists looking at key biological and ecological traits of snapper, yellowtail kingfish and King George whiting have found all three are settling in.

Woman wearing a coat looking forward.
Alexia Graba-Landry is investigating the potential of new fisheries.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“They’ve become more and more abundant in Tasmania,” marine scientist Alexia Graba-Landry said.

“As waters become warmer over a greater proportion of the state, that leads to better habitat for these fish and they’re likely to become more abundant.”

The research found that yellowtail kingfish were present in Tasmanian waters between October and May as small immature fish, while snapper were present year-round and there were reproductively mature adults.

King George whiting were also in Tasmania year-round and with adults successfully reproducing, the research said.

Fish on a boat.
King George whiting caught in Tasmania’s north-east.(Supplied: Damon Sherriff)

“There are historical records of King George whiting since the 1920s but they’re only occasional records, so increasingly we are finding more and more reports of King George whiting in Tasmania from recreational and commercial fishermen,” Dr Graba-Landry said.

“For all three species, under future warming the habitat is likely to become more suitable, therefore they are likely to extend their range and increase their abundance.”

man looking at fish skeletons on table
Researcher Barrett Wolfe inspects fish frames from warm-water species found in Tasmanian waters.(Supplied: Dave Mossop)

The scientific team also ran data through modeling to work out what effect future population increases would have on local ecosystems.

“Across all scenarios there’s little evidence for any ecosystem collapse should these species extend their range and increase their abundance,” Dr. Graba-Landry said.

It’s good news for fishermen — King George whiting has become so comfortable it’s been flagged by IMAS as a developing fishery to keep an eye on.

“We’re presented with this unique opportunity to proactively manage these emerging fisheries,” Dr. Graba-Landry said.

man holding small fish
IMAS officers including Dave Mossop have been researching snapper numbers.(Supplied)

A lot of the research was done with the help of recreational fishermen.

Instead of throwing out their fish waste, they have been donating their fish skeletons to scientists, helping them fill critical knowledge gaps on some species.

There were 16 drop-off points at tackle shops around the state.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm; 30 recreational fishermen regularly donated frames,” Dr. Graba-Landry said.

man holding a big fish, standing next to kayak
Damon Sherriff and a prize snapper caught from a kayak.(Supplied: Damon Sherriff)

Mr Sherriff donated his fair share. For the avid fisherman, snapper will remain his favorite.

The amateur artist and fish taxidermist loves to draw and paint them and the prettier ones go on the wall.

“I love the colors in the snapper … I’m an arty-farty person and I really enjoy looking at a snapper fresh out of the water,” he said.

“I really enjoy trying to replicate the colors in a fish.”

stuffed fish on the wall
Damon Sherriff taxidermises snapper he catches.(Supplied)


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