Abstract Deficiencies in sardine post-harvest handling methods were seen as major impediments to development of a value-adding sector supplying Australian bait and human consumption markets. Factors affecting sardine deterioration rates in the immediate post-harvest period were investigated and recommendations made for alternative handling procedures to optimise sardine quality. Net to factory sampling showed that post-mortem autolysis was probably caused by digestive enzyme activity contributing to the observed temporal increase in sardine Quality Index. Belly burst was not an issue. Sardine quality could be maintained by reducing tank loading, and rapid temperature reduction using dedicated, on-board value-adding tanks. Fish should be iced between the jetty and the processing factory, and transport bins chilled using an efficient cooling medium such as flow ice.