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Fish Facts

FISH FACTS: Tailor

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Chopper sized tailor are great fun for kids.

SOMETIMES referred to as the “poor man’s gamefish”, tailor (Pomatomus saltatrix) are an iconic target species for surf fishers along the east and west coasts of Australia. They can be caught from the northern tip of Fraser Island in Queensland south to Onslow in WA, but are rare in the waters off western Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Thinking globally, tailor are a wide ranging species found around the world in several genetically separate stocks, including off the east coast of the USA (where they are known as bluefish), South Africa (where they are called elf), Brazil, and in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Genetic studies have also shown that tailor on Australia’s east coast are a separate stock from those found in WA.

On the east coast, all tailor found north of Sydney are part of the stock that spawns at Fraser Island, Australia’s only confirmed tailor spawning ground. Each autumn and winter large schools of tailor migrate north along the NSW coast into Queensland waters where they congregate near Indian Head and Waddy Point on Fraser Island. The spawning migration begins once water temperatures start to drop in early autumn and gathers pace into winter, with the peak of the spawning period around September, a time when the spawning tailor are protected by a fishing closure in that area. The instinctive northward movement is called a “compensatory migration” as the adult fish counteract the effect of the southward flowing East Australian Current, which allows passive southward distribution of the eggs, larvae and juveniles with the prevailing current. There is no evidence of a similar mass-migration in WA, where it is thought spawning might occur in numerous localised areas along the coast. About a month after spawning, juvenile tailor enter estuaries and inshore waters where an abundant supply of food awaits. The timing of spawning in tailor is generally slightly earlier in the year than most of their prey species, giving them an abundant food supply and a useful size advantage over their prey.

Juvenile tailor are voracious predators that use their mouthful of razor sharp teeth to terrorise any smaller fish they encounter, and sometimes even fish larger than themselves. Studies in the US have estimated that the tailor population eats up to eight times its own weight of other fish species each year. Not surprisingly, in years when they are abundant, the feeding instincts of tailor can result in a significant reduction of the abundance of other species of fish. In Australia, juvenile tailor grow rapidly to around 15 cm in one year, and both sexes mature at around 2 to 3 years old and approximately 30 cm in length. A 60 cm tailor is thought to be around 5 or 6 years old, and they are known to grow to a maximum size of around 120 cm and 14 kg. Like many predatory fish, tailor are most active at change of light and at night when the structure of their eyes allows them better vision at low light levels than their prey.

A recent tailor stock assessment by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries makes for some interesting reading. It found that fishing club data from Southeast Queensland showed a 50% decline in tailor catch rates for individual fishers between the 1950s and the 1990s.  Even so, the total annual harvest of both commercial and recreational sectors from New South Wales and Queensland waters peaked at around 1800 tonnes in 1996, mainly on the back of massive increases in the number of recreational fishers targeting tailor, together with better access to the fishery through increased numbers of 4WDs and improvements in fishing gear. It appears the tailor stock was probably overfished in the 1980s and 1990s and, since then, the total catch has reduced markedly, due to reduced numbers of tailor, and changes in management including increased sized limits and reduced bag limits for recreational anglers (See figure 2.1 below – taken from the Stock Assessment).  Since 2010 the average total annual harvest has been around 300 tonnes, and modelling suggests that the fish population has started to respond and recover under this reduced fishing pressure. Hopefully the recovery will continue and future generations will enjoy tangling with these tasty toothy opponents for many years to come.

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