The iconic Dhufish remains a favourite species for West Aussie fishers, as tens of thousands of us hit the water each summer in an attempt to snare one of these magnificent fish. Despite their popularity, concerns have been raised for the sustainability of Dhufish stocks and strict regulations on bag and boat limits have been in place alongside the annual demersal closure to protect recovering stocks.
In the September issue Recfishwest’s Broad Cast, we brought you an update on Recfishwest’s request, on the back of multiple requests from the community, for a review of the boat limit on Dhufish which currently sits at two.
Given the slow growth of this iconic fish, this is not a decision we took lightly, but was prompted after recent anecdotal reports from fishers indicating that the resource was recovering well, including a high abundance of juvenile fish not seen for many years. Current recreational catches are well below the sustainability target level set for an adequate recovery, in fact recreational take had reduced by 62% since 2009 when management was introduced to reduce the catch by half.
We were pleased to report in September that the Department of Fisheries had agreed to review our request once the most recent stock assessment information was available. Unfortunately the full stock assessment for Dhufish has been delayed, and is now expected to be available in mid-2017, however a preliminary assessment of WA Dhufish was undertaken to assist in evaluating potential changes to the boat limit.
In late November, preliminary information from the stock assessment was available and although Recfishwest’s calculations indicated the recreational take will remain below the sustainability target with an increased boat limit to three Dhufish, the assessment indicated that the stock may be recovering more slowly than expected in the northern and metropolitan areas of the West Coast Bioregion.
The Department of Fisheries made the decision that the rate of recovery was not sufficient enough to allow an increase in the boat limit at this time. This news will be disappointing to some fishers, however, in the face of current uncertainties, Recfishwest does not support a change to rules that may put the recovery of this iconic species at risk. It is important to understand that Recfishwest will only support management changes when there is clear evidence of sufficient Dhufish stock recovery, and with confidence that any changes will not compromise future sustainability.
Additional analysis of the status of WA Dhufish will be completed as part of the full assessment of West Coast demersal scalefish due to be delivered in mid- 2017. This full assessment will include more complex stock assessment analysis than what was possible at the time of the preliminary assessment and will further inform any potential management changes.
The full assessment will also include the results of the third iSurvey due for release later this year and a more detailed examination of the potential impacts of any management changes. Recfishwest’s request will be revisited when the full assessment is available.
The iconic Dhufish story has many twists and turns, particularly in the last decade, but we have come too far to increase the risk to these fish in any way. The stock assessment indicates that current fishing levels are allowing the stock to recover.Ongoing anecdotal reports of high abundances of juvenile fish, particularly in the metro area, are encouraging. The long term forecast indicates sunny skies for Dhuies.