Seeking answers around the future of Cockburn Sound fishing from key decision-makers

In August, Recfishwest expressed “bitter disappointment” after the State Government accepted the Westport Taskforce’s flawed recommendation to build a new port in Cockburn Sound.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said: “The Taskforce failed to address the community’s serious concerns about the impact a port in Cockburn Sound would have on fish stocks and the highly valued fishing experiences they support in the city’s backyard.

WATCH: This amazing underwater footage of a spawning pink snapper school off Perth shows what we want to protect

“Firstly, this is a long-term issue and the Government of the day needs to protect fish and fish habitats.

“In recent days, we have been addressing the highest powers on both sides of the political divide about this vital issue.”

FLASHBACK: How Recfishwest reacted to the Government’s announcement to push ahead with a port development

On Tuesday, Dr Rowland and members of the Recfishwest Board met with Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley to impress on them that the decision to press ahead with the port project without taking into consideration the importance of fishing in the sound was a huge slap in the face to thousands of metro fishers.

Recfishwest Board and CEO Dr Andrew Rowland around the table with Ministers MacTiernan and Tinley, as well as DPIRD Director of Fisheries Science and Resource Assessment Dr Dan Gaughan and Westport Taskforce Chairperson Nicole Lockwood.

“We also wanted to hear how the Ministers proposed to address the key questions the Westport Taskforce had failed to answer and to understand how the Government intends to ensure the health and resilience of the Sound is improved,” Dr Rowland said.

Dr Rowland said Recfishwest’s questions, which remain unanswered after three years of putting them to the Taskforce, are:

  • What impact will a port have on fish stocks?
  • What impact will a port have on fishing experiences?
  • What impact will a port have on access and fishing amenity?
  • What impact will a port have on safety?
  • How will any impacts be avoided, minimized, mitigated or offset?

The critical need for a transparent decision-making process

“We also sought assurances that the scientific research carried out as part of the Minister’s pledge is presented to the community clearly, accurately and understandably – another of the Taskforce’s big failings was a lack of transparency especially around their shortlisting and MCA processes,” Dr Rowland said.

“The meeting was a productive one and we received assurances from the Ministers that those key questions will now be addressed as a matter of priority well in advance of the Public Environmental Review scheduled for 2025.”

The Government’s investment of $29.5 million in ‘environmental studies, modelling, impact assessment and mitigation’ for the next phase of the project, the Ministers told the Recfishwest delegation, will aim to fill the information gaps and assist the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to determine whether the proposed port receives environmental approval.”

What impact will the proposed Cockburn Sound outer port have on fish stocks, including pinkies?

Minister MacTiernan confirmed $4 million of that would be spent on “a specific research program into pink snapper, a greater understanding of the impacts of port development on pink snapper and investigations into a range of resilience-building opportunities with the aim of increasing the overall resilience of the Cockburn Sound ecosystem”.

“We made clear to the Ministers thousands of recfishers now expect and have a right to receive swift, comprehensive and credible answers about what matters most,” Dr Rowland said.

“Rest assured, we will continue to hold the Government accountable on all of this and ensure it provides us with answers and solutions that can protect fish stocks in the sound, including the pink snapper schools that spawn in the sound every year – the species’ largest and most important spawning aggregations on the lower west coast.”

Catching up with Zak Kirkup

Meanwhile, Recfishwest has continued to engage with key politicians, decision-makers and influencers across the board on Cockburn Sound’s future.

“Today, I met with the new opposition leader Zak Kirkup to better understand the Liberal party’s position on securing the future of this unique waterway – the only place along the metro coast that provides safe, accessible, enjoyable fishing in almost any weather,” Dr Rowland said.

“We again highlighted to Mr Kirkup just how valued Cockburn Sound is by thousands of metro fishers and how let down they and we felt by the momentous decision to accept the Taskforce’s decision without any consideration whatsoever being given to the impact on fishing stocks and the great fishing experiences they provide.”

Mr Kirkup acknowledged Recfishwest’s concerns and recognised the importance of the sound’s environment and the fishing it provides.

Woodman Point: Recfishwest CEO Dr Rowland impressing on WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup and Cockburn Liberal candidate Owen Mulder how important Cockburn Sound is to Perth fishers.

He said a Cockburn Sound port was not in the Liberals’ transport plans, expressing concerns that “an automated port would obliterate the only known place pink snapper spawn in the West Coast Bioregion and the seagrass meadows which are vital for helping fish stocks”.

Dr Rowland said industrialising Cockburn Sound was one of the worst planning failures in WA’s history and to continue down the path of any new development without understanding the impact it would have on the sound is simply perpetuating these historical failures.

“We can’t turn the clock back, but we can work to ensure the Government rectifies the shortcomings of the Taskforce and ensure past planning failures that have hurt the sound aren’t repeated in the future,” he said.

Cockburn Sound port development timeline

Next phase: $97.2 million to progress environmental works, detailed design and a final business case.

  • $29.5 million for environmental studies, modelling, impact assessment and mitigation;
  • Additional funding for resilience building activities;
  • Proposal to the Environmental Protection Authority in late 2023;
  • Public Environmental Review 2025 (after the 2025 State Election);
  • Dredging scheduled to begin end of 2027 (pending all environmental approvals); and,
  • Port operational in 2032 at the earliest.

“As ever, we will keep you in the loop on developments as they happen on this very important issue,” Dr Rowland said.

Pink snapper like this, which are known to spawn in Cockburn Sound, are worth protecting.

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