Danish Seine Fishery

​​​​​​​​WhitingDanish seine vessels have been operating in Tasmania since the mid 1930s and the method used today is largely unchanged from the original. Two species of fish are targeted, tiger flathead (Neoplatycephalus richardsoni) and southern school whiting (Sillago flindersi). All catch is landed whole.Flathead

Danish seine vessels in Tasmania typically operate close shore (although outside of the one nautical mile limit) on flat sandy bottom. Water depths fished are approximately between 10 to 90 metres.

Arrow image. See maps that relate to the Danish seine fishery.

A Danish seine operation is shown below in the photographs of a fishing vessel targeting southern school whiting in Frederick Henry Bay. (A PDF version of the sequence is also available.)

Danish seine fishing gear is very light and does not plough into the sea floor, but rather skips over the substrate, scaring and herding the fish into the net. Due to the light nature of the fishing gear, reefs are avoided by the operators. In general catch sizes are small, so there is minimal damage to the catch. The fish can be iced down quickly and the landed product is of a high quality. There is generally very little bycatch associated with this type of fishing.

What is the Danish Seine Fishery?

Its unique method of operation and low number of operators mean that very few people have a thorough understanding of what Danish seining actually is. Its similarity to demersal trawling has meant that there are many misconceptions and generalisations made about Danish seines, of which many are inaccurate.

Trawling was prohibited in Tasmanian coastal waters in 2001 and at the time holders of a Tasmanian fishing licence (Danish seine) and (limited Danish seine) were only permitted to use Danish seine nets, which is still the case today. The fishery consists of eight licences, two limited Danish seine and six Danish seine, with only four of these operating in the last five years. All licences are currently non-transferable, so cannot be sold or handed down to family members. In addition, a licence can only be operated by individuals that were historically nominated on the licence. Please note that trawling does still occur in Commonwealth waters, which are managed by AFMA.

It is important to note that Danish seine nets are quite different to traditional trawl nets (demersal or otter trawl) both in design and operation. They do not use heavy 'doors' and ground gear and are not continuously towed through the water. Once set, the net is retrieved on the vessel, with the ropes or 'warps' herding the fish towards the net and with the net spending very little time on the seabed. Due to the comparatively light-weight construction of the net and the habitat of the target species, Danish seine nets are only used over soft, sandy substrate so there is a comparatively low level of impact on benthic habitats compared with traditional trawl nets. Operators use nets with different mesh sizes when targeting different species as per regulations, and are fitted with a mesh size that allows the escape of undersize fish.

Danish seine operations mainly occur in Tasmania's south east waters with tiger flathead and southern school whiting being the major target species. However, other scalefish may be retained subject to the relevant limits for those species. There are also significant area restrictions in place for the fishery with all waters within one nautical mile (1.852 kilometres) of the coast being closed to fishing, with the exception of Ile des Phoques (White Rock). Other closed areas include, but are not limited to, Great Oyster Bay, Mercury Passage, the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the River Derwent. One operator, however, is endorsed to fish within specific areas of the River Derwent and Frederick Henry Bay on weekdays only.

The Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), which advises the Government on stock sustainability matters, has not indicated any concerns for the sustainability of tiger flathead or school whiting stocks in recent years. Note that in terms of flathead catch in Tasmania, the vast majority is caught by recreational anglers with an estimated annual catch of around 300 tonnes (2012/13). In contrast, the annual commercial catch of flathead ranges from 20 to 74 tonnes (subject to commercial activity). Furthermore, the two sectors generally target different species of flathead, with the majority of the commercial catch made up of Tiger Flathead​ and the recreational catch dominated by Southern Sand Flathead.

How a Danish Seine operation works

Picture 1 - Dropping the Dhan pole and buoy
1. Leave dhan pole and Buoy and steam away fast, paying out ​the warp from the port side.
Picture 2 - Net going in
2. When port side warp is almost out, then the net goes in the water.
Picture 3 - Attaching starboard warp
3. The net is now in the water...and getting ready to attach to starboard side warp.
Picture 4 - Steaming away paying out starboard warp
4. Steaming away from net paying out starboard side warp...
Picture 5 - the target Dhan pole and buoy
5. The target (i.e., the dhan pole and buoy)!
Picture 6 - Picking up Dhan pole and buoy
6. Picking up the dhan pole and buoy then both warps are resecured to the vessel.
Picture 7 - Towing the net
7. Now we are steaming...the net is towed along the bottom for a short time and the vessel is steaming slowly to close the net. This type of gear is very light and does not plough into the bottom, but rather skips over the substrate, scaring and herding the fish into the net.
Picture 8 - Drawing in the net
8. Drawing in the net. The warps are winched in simultaneously, resulting in the net being drawn to the vessel with the catch guided to the codend.
Picture 9 - Bridles footline and headline
9. Small light gear - Note the bridles separating the footline (on left) from the headline (on right where the buoy is).
Picture 10 - Close up of wing mesh
10. Close up of the 'wing' mesh.
Picture 11- Hauling in the net
11. Hauling the net.
Picture 12 - Catch in the codend
12. A small catch of whiting in the codend.
Picture 13 - Whiting catch lifted on board
13. Catch is mainly whiting...approximately 200 kilograms. The whole operation takes about 1-1.5 hours.
Picture 14 - Reasonably clean whiting catch
14. The whiting catch. Note that there is very little bycatch.

The catch is iced down quickly to ensure a quality product. Both flathead and whiting are sold locally through fishmongers, retail outlets and restaurants. Surplus supply is typically freighted to Melbourne and sold through the Melbourne Fish Markets. The majority of fishing trips are short (between 1 and 3 days) resulting in a superior product.

PDF version of the above information.

Assessment of Danish Seine Catch

Tiger Flathead and Eastern School Whiting are assessed by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies annually as part of the Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery Assessment. Both species were assessed as "sustainable" in the 2017/18 assessment report.​ Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery Assessment Reports are available for download on the IMAS website.

Recreational catch for various species is estimated every five years via the recreational fishing survey, with the 2012/13 report published in December 2014. The results from the 2017/18 recreational fishing survey will be published in the latter half of 2019 and will be available for download on the IMAS website under Recreational Fisheries.

Both species, along with many others, are also included in the Status of Australian Fish Stocks report which is available at https://www.fish.gov.au/.

Past Reviews of the Danish Seine Fishery

The Danish Seine Fishery was listed as a potential issue for the 2009 review of the Scalefish Fishery, however this component was omitted and deferred for a separate review. The aim of the review was to assess the current management measures in place for the Danish seine component of the Tasmanian Scalefish Fishery. The review covered key issues including spatial management, licence transferability and other issues related to the sustainable management of the fishery. The final report  for the 2010 review is available for download below.

Danish Seine Fishery Review Report (433 KB)

Ocean Watch Australia LogoOceanWatch Australia Ltd is a national not-for-profit environmental company that works to advance sustainability in the Australian seafood industry. OceanWatch Australia works in partnership with the Australian seafood industry, federal and state governments, natural resource managers, private enterprise and local communities.
TSIC logoThe Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council (TSIC) is the peak body for the whole of the Tasmanian seafood industry. Its primary role is to promote and protect the interests of all those involved in the industry, i.e. the wild catch, aquaculture and processing sectors.
AFMA logo

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) manages the Commonwealth fisheries including those that operate in waters adjacent to Tasmania such as the:
  • Small pelagic fishery;
  • Southern squid jig fishery;
  • Commonwealth trawl sector; and
  • Gillnet, hook and trap sectors.

All photos on this page (excluding the flathead photo) and some content relating to how a Danish seine operation works were provided by OceanWatch Australia Ltd.


Commercial Scalefish
Frances Seaborn
Level 3, 134 Macquarie Street
GPO Box 44
Phone: 0457 006 821
Email: Frances.Seaborn@nre.tas.gov.au