Get set for a crazy summer of crayfish!

Fishers are busy preparing their cray pots and dive gear as one of WA’s top western rock lobster experts predicted a “bumper season” confirming this year’s anticipated ‘whites run’ is only about a fortnight away.

Divers love getting stuck into the annual whites run. Picture: Matthew Barnes

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon de Lestang told Recfishwest the 2020-21 run was likely to get underway by mid-November.

It is welcome news for many of the State’s fishers who are eagerly awaiting the annual whites migration run, which sees buzzing nearshore activity as crays begin their annual migration to deeper waters.

“They should start to migrate in the middle of November. It is going to be a very good shallows run for recreational fishers,” Dr de Lestang said.

“There are a lot of crays in the shallows at the moment which are ready to go and will walk out pretty strongly – it will be a bumper season, that’s for sure.”

She’ll be whites

The timing of the crays’ whites run varies each year, however, it usually occurs near late November and early December.

Once underway, the annual migration provides unrivalled fishing opportunities for potters and divers at many reefs relatively close to shore.

Given the nearshore proximity, boat ramps along the WA coast are usually a hive of activity in the early mornings of the summer months as crews aim to get a bag of crays before heading to work.

The amazing fishing opportunity during the annual whites run is the main factor as to why more than half of total recreational cray catches occur from December to February.

It’s also why more than 50,000 West Aussies took out a recreational lobster fishing licence last year. Quite simply catching crays for Christmas is an integral and much-loved part of the WA lifestyle.

DPIRD’s crayfish crystal ball

More than 50,000 West Aussies took out a recreational lobster fishing licence last year!

To forecast crayfish abundance each season, DPIRD collect the puerulus – a juvenile stage of a cray – with specialised buoys mimicking natural algae habitat where juvenile crayfish like to settle.

Through this method, DPIRD researchers determine how many puerulus have concentrated on these buoys for each new moon period and then determine recruitment trends and patterns.

The settlement information has a strong correlation with crayfish catches in three to four years, once the crays have matured to a legal size, allowing DPIRD to make accurate seasonal forecasts.

According to Dr de Lestang, the puerulus settlement for the 2016 season was well above average, meaning fishers should enjoy plenty of catches in the next few months.

“We had a good puerulus settlement in 2016 and it’s set to be really pushing through in the upcoming white run,” Dr de Lestang said.

“It is a very positive outlook and fishers should definitely get a lot of catches.

“This year, we’re expecting a lot more catches of smaller sized crays closer to 76mm, compared to last year when we saw catches of bigger crays.”

Why is it dubbed the ‘whites run’?

For those who have ever wondered why the annual migration has been coined the ‘whites run’, Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett said the question had a simple answer.

“A ‘white’ cray is a colloquial term describing crayfish which have freshly moulted with their new soft, pale shell,” he said.

“Pre-moulted crays are easily distinguishable – they have a hard, dark red shell.

“Juvenile crays settle along seagrass beds and rocky habitat close to shore and when they reach sexual maturity – at about three to four years – they migrate from this inshore habitat.

“During the migration, crays venture to deeper offshore reef platforms in a north-westerly direction, hence the ‘run’ in ‘whites run’.”

Get out there, get among it

If you’re planning to drop pots for crayfish this season or are among the cohort of divers who descend to the reefs in search of the much-loved species, be sure to show us your photos.

Tag @recfishwest and #recfishwest in your social media posts for a chance to be featured in our weekly State-wide Fishing Report, which is sent to about 10,000 mad-keen fishers each Friday.

Crayfishers are set to enjoy a “bumper season” in the coming months. Picture: Matthew Barnes