Ask Dr Dazza: Diver whiting how to catch them

Published 5:00am 8 July 2022

Ask Dr Dazza: Diver whiting how to catch them
Words by Dr Dazza

Whiting are arguably the best eating of our popular inshore and estuary fish species. Three species of whiting are of fisheries significance in Moreton Bay: the diver (trumpeter) whiting (Sillago maculata), the sand whiting (Sillago ciliata) and the yellowfin (golden-lined) whiting (Sillago analis).

The diver whiting was historically called winter whiting, however they can be caught in Moreton Bay all year round. Winter is, however, the time of year they become more abundant on the western side of Moreton Bay in places like Deception and Bramble Bays. Winter is the main time they are targeted by recreational fishers. The common name of diver whiting is thought to have originated from the greater depths the species is found at as adults compared to sand and yellowfin whiting.

They may not be the most glamorous of our target species, but they are great for the whole family to catch and many an angler is of the view that they are the best eating of our local whiting species. Diver whiting are smaller than both sand whiting and yellowfin whiting, with any fish over 32cm being a rare catch. Recreational fishers are restricted by a possession limit of 50 fish per person, although there is no minimum legal size. A possession limit means you can only have that many fish (or parts thereof) in your possession at any one time, even at home.

Diver whiting are endemic to Australia. They occur throughout NSW and Queensland east coast coastal waters but are most abundant in large embayments like Moreton and Hervey Bay and Lake Macquarie and Botany Bay in NSW.

Vital location

The intertidal flats in Moreton Bay are important for the ecology of many species, and diver whiting are no exception. These flats contribute substantially to the diversity and abundance of the fauna of the bay. After completing their larval phases, diver whiting become very small juveniles in very shallow areas and often stay in tidepools at low tide in seagrass or bare areas.

The large intertidal flats in Moreton Bay provide perfect habitat for these tiny diver whiting. These shallow areas including tidepools provide warmer water which can enhance growth rate as well as providing protection from fish predators. I have observed them using yabby burrows in tidepools as shelter when disturbed. These tiny juveniles feed on extremely small animals collectively called meiofauna that includes nematodes (round worms) and crustaceans called copepods. As they grow, they consume larger prey and their diet broadens.

How to catch them

Larger juveniles and adult diver whiting move into deeper water and prefer silty areas. In terms of baits for catching them, they are not particularly fussy. The adults can be found at any depth within Moreton Bay. Bloodworms and squid work well, and if you are using a piece of thin red tube above the hook, they will bite on that when really hungry.

The most comprehensive recent work on the age and growth of diver whiting has been from NSW. That study found that fish reached maturity at about 15cm fork length - the length of the fish from the snout to the “V” in the tail. Fish spawn more than once per year. The maximum ages for males and females were 9 ½ and 12 years, respectively.

Have fun chasing diver whiting this winter and enjoy them on the table!

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