The West Coast Zone Abalone fishery is arguably the most tightly controlled and strictly managed fishery in the world. The fishery is only open between 7am-8am on the first Sunday of each month from November to March. This means metropolitan Abalone fishers only have five hours to fish each season.
This brief window of opportunity means Abalone fishers are highly likely to go fishing regardless of the weather conditions, as they would have to wait another month if they missed the one hour window.
This desire to fish despite the risks was evident on the opening day of this year’s season where a large swell made for treacherous conditions and resulted in the tragic death of a Balcatta man. Since 2012, Abalone fishing in WA has accounted for four deaths and more than 100 rescues, as well as countless injuries. No Abalone is worth risking your life or the lives of Surf Life Saving volunteers.
While Recfishwest believe each individual fisher is responsible for their own safety in choosing whether to enter the water, it is clear there needs to be greater flexibility in the management of this fishery to ensure the safety of all fishers.
The Department of Fisheries have recognised the need for greater flexibility and have moved the next fishing date from New Year’s Day to Sunday 8 January. This decision is primarily based on Surf Life Saving volunteers potentially having their hands full on New Year’s Day as thousands of people descend onto WA beaches in the hot weather. Throw in thousands of additional Abalone fishers who are allocated to fish on that morning, and the pressure on our water safety experts is under high strain.
The willingness of the Department to change management arrangements to improve the amenity of the fishery demonstrates that recreational fishing management is just as much about managing people as it is about managing fish stocks. We want everyone to come home safe after a day of fishing, whether it be fishing from a boat, on the rocks or snorkeling for Abalone.
Recfishwest believe further management changes for this fishery could further improve both safety and fishing experiences. Recfishwest will be working with the Department of Fisheries and with Surf Life Saving WA (as the water safety experts) to further identify other management changes that could improve safety and enhance people’s fishing experiences.