Eastern school whiting are a major commercial species along the eastern coast of Australia, caught by Danish seine vessels in the Bass Strait and as a byproduct of prawn trawling to the north. This forms a large export market to Japan, with over 1400 tonnes per year caught and exported.
The Eastern school whiting was long thought to be synonymous with the closely related species Sillago bassensis, the southern school whiting, with this relationship first applied in 1892 by Cohen. It took until 1985 before McKay identified two distinct forms of Sillago bassensis, which he believed to subspecies, thus erecting Sillago bassensis flindersi for the eastern subspecies and Sillago bassensis bassensis for the western subspecies. These subspecies were formally promoted to separate species status in 1992, during a second review of the family by McKay after the two species were found to occur sympatrically in Bass Strait. The binomial name of the species was named in honour of the explorer Captain Matthew Flinders, who circumnavigated and extensively mapped the coastline of Australia.
The various common names of the so called 'school whitings' is complicated, with the original use of western and eastern school whiting to describe S. bassensis and S. flindersi affected by the naming of a third species of school whiting; Sillago vittata. This has not affected S. flindersi, which is still named the 'eastern school whiting' in recognition that it inhabits the east coast of Australia. The local name of 'red-spot whiting' refers to the diagonal lines of red spots present on the fish's upper side. The rarely used name of 'Bass Straight whiting' refers to oceanic straight between the Victorian and Tasmanian coastlines, where large quantities of the species are taken in trawls.
The swim bladder morphology is nearly identical to that of S. bassensis, shaped by a short, blunt anterior median projection with no posterior projection. Swim bladder morphology is useless for distinguishing between this species and S. bassensis, with the external colour the most reliable method.
The eastern school whiting has a pale sandy colour on top with a silvery white below and an olive brown-pink head with blue and yellow tinges. A series of obliquely positioned rusty brown bars are positioned on the back and upper sides, with a longitudinal row of rusty brown blotches along the mid-lateral silver stripe. There is no dark spot at the base of the hyaline-yellow pectoral fin. The first, spinous dorsal fin is is hyaline with a dusting of red spots, while the second dorsal fin is is hyaline and each ray having a sprinkling of 4-5 red spots. The ventral and anal fins are also hyaline, with he anal fin having yellow to orange rays with white margins. The coloration is very similar to S. bassensis but differs in that the oblique bars are wider, more regular and without the appearance of effused dots or spots, as well as lacking the mid-lateral blotches.
Unlike most other species of sillaginids, the eastern school whiting is primarily an offshore species, inhabiting waters on the continental shelf down to depths of 180m, rarely seen in shallower waters. The species is known to inhabit surf zones and to congregate around coastal lakes, particularly during February and March. They prefer clean sandy substrates, rarely occupying silty or seagrass beds and have never been found in estuarine waters. Genetic analysis has shown that migration does not occur in the species, instead they tend to remain in the same area throughout their life cycle.
Two major fisheries exist for the species, one in Bass Strait, the other in Southern Queensland. The Bass Strait fishery is dominated by Danish seine vessels which take over 90% of the catch. This fishery has expanded markedly in recent years, with catches prior to 1970 less than 270 tonnes per year, having risen to over 1400 tonnes per year in 1993. The Queensland fishery is relatively new, developed after a population of eastern school whiting was found by trawlers. A number of smaller fisheries are due to bycatch of prawn trawlers along the range of the species. The Queensland and smaller fisheries form the basis of a lucrative export market whereby whole frozen fish are shipped to Thailand where they are processed and sent to Japan. This fishery was worth over 2.5 million Australian dollars in 1986.