Recfishwest west coast demersal scalefish recommendations package

Below is the summary of the package of west coast demersal scalefish recommendations we made to the Government in July, 2022. The full set of recommendations can be found below the summary.


Recfishwest support the following measures developed over several months, drawing on our own expertise as well as that of a panel of fishing experts.  These measures were informed by feedback from thousands of WA recreational fishers, DPIRD fisheries data and in consultation with DPIRD researchers and managers.

Better protection for spawning fish

  • Introduce a two month spawning closure during the peak spawning period for dhufish (mid-January – mid-March).
  • Extend the start of the pink snapper spawning closure in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds from 1 August – 31 January
  • Bring forward the current Abrolhos Islands baldchin groper closure to 1 Oct – 31 Dec to cover the peak spawning period

Better fishery management and rules

  • Move the current 15 October- 15 December closure to the third school term of each year (mid-July to late Sept) allowing families to fish during the July and October holidays while giving the fish a break in between.
  • Management focused on supporting the right species in the right place at the right time, for example pink snapper in the Mid-West are recovering slowest and in most in need of specific management measures.
  • Collect better data on catch, effort, fisher behaviour and fishing experience to inform better management decisions
  • Establish a Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme with fair and reasonable compensation for commercial fishers wishing to exit the fishery leaving more fish in the water.
  • Remove or reduce the size limit on fish that are badly affected by barotrauma and have a greater than 50% chance of dying if released.
  • Allow only one bait or lure per line when demersal fishing in the west coast bioregion

Better research and education

  • A long-term education campaign to promote sustainable fishing practices and encouraging fishers to be stewards of demersal fish
  • Test shark deterrents and promote best ways to prevent shark bite-off
  • Investigate the impacts a changing climate is having on demersal fish stocks and how
  • Earlier identification of recruitment pulses allowing for greater confidence in stock abundance and earlier application of required management measures
  • Understand and incorporate the social and economic values generated from this fishery into management allowing for the optimum use of available fish
  • Research the effectiveness of stocking dhufish and pink snapper in boosting stocks

Recfishwest advice and recommendations on preferred west coast demersal management measures in full


The West Coast Demersal Scalefish fishery (WCDS) is of critical importance to recreational fishing in Western Australia, not just because of its proximity to the population centres of Perth, Bunbury, Busselton and Geraldton but also because of the social significance of snapper and dhufish. These fish hold a special place in the heart of fishers as demonstrated by recreational fishers driving the creation of a spawning closure for snapper aggregations in Cockburn Sound more than two decades ago. The myriad of boat names incorporating variations on the word ‘dhufish’ is another example of how this fishery has become part of the social fabric of recreational fishing in Western Australia.

The West Coast Bioregion is home to more than 90 per cent of the Western Australian population and accounts for 50 per cent of all recreationally caught demersal fish. This fishery creates significant economic value through boat/tackle sales and service, charter fishing and fishing tourism. A considerable portion of the $2.4 billion recreational fishers directly inject into the Western Australian economy each year can be attributed to this fishery. Furthermore, with half of all charter trips in Western Australia occurring in the West Coast bioregion, a considerable proportion of the 831 jobs and $110 million expenditure generated annually by charter fishing can also be attributed to this fishery.

The importance of this fishery is such that 10 years ago a 20‐year recovery plan for pink snapper and dhufish was established after an earlier stock assessment showed catches needed to be reduced to protect fish stocks. A stock assessment released in 2021 shows fish stocks are unlikely to recover within the 20‐year recovery plan timeframe and further reductions in catches are required.

The sustainability of these critically important fish stocks is Recfishwest’s priority. While the science may not be as current as we would like or reflect what many fishers are seeing on the water, it clearly shows recovery of our favourite fish is not happening as fast as had been hoped. The lack of older fish in the population remains a problem that needs to be addressed and the best way to do this is by leaving more fish in the water.

In February 2022, the Minister for Fisheries made the decision to reduce total demersal fishing mortality on the West Coast by 50 per cent. To achieve this target, the Minister expects recreational fishers to reduce current catches by significantly more than other sectors. While Recfishwest will always put the fish first we do not believe the Minister’s decision to disproportionally impact on recreational fishers is equitable, reasonable, or justified.

In meeting the challenge to reduce overall fishing mortality, Recfishwest consulted with fishers through a WCDS survey that we developed and formed an Expert Working Group (EWG) to assist in developing advice on future management options. The EWG was guided by almost 6,000 responses to our survey. The resulting advice and recommendations in this document provide a mix of innovative and common‐sense solutions we believe can meet the challenges facing this fishery.

There is no escaping the fact that meeting the Minister’s catch reduction targets will result in a significant impact to fishing experiences and the viability of many small family‐run businesses. The EWG met seven times between April and June 2022 and assessed options on how fishing mortality could be best reduced to support sustainability objectives while minimising impacts on fishing experiences and maintaining as much of the social and economic value provided by this fishery as possible. With less fish to go around it is more important than ever to make the most of the fish that are available.

The synergy between the recommendations below means this advice should be seen as a package rather than viewed individually. These recommendations have been made in the best interest of fish stocks and cannot be interpreted as support for the Minister’s decision to disproportionally impact recreational fishers. Any management changes that occur should be reviewed annually to ensure new management approaches are delivering what was intended. Recfishwest understands DPIRD will develop a draft management package for public consultation that has been informed by the following advice.

It is unclear why the Minister chose to implement the catch reductions in line with Integrated Fisheries Management (IFM) allocations that were set at historic catch proportions from nearly two decades ago. When each sector was allocated a portion of this fishery in 2012, the initial allocations were seen as a starting point for resource sharing discussions. These allocations were only based on catch history and did not account for any economic or social values provided by these fish. The Minister at the time committed to implementing reallocation to better reflect the social and economic importance of the fishery as soon as practicable, however this commitment has never been fulfilled and consequently the government’s IFM policy has failed to deliver on stakeholder expectations.

The following contains advice and recommendations on preferred primary management measures, supporting management measures as well as management measures that Recfishwest has considered and does not support progressing to further consultation.

Consideration of Primary and Supporting Management Measures

In assessing options for the ongoing management of the WCDS, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) presented Recfishwest and the EWG with potential options that sought to reduce the benchmarks for total mortality (kept catch + release mortality) by 50 per cent. These options were categorised based on the level of reductions that they might deliver. Those management options that could deliver significant mortality reductions were considered primary management measures, while those that could not achieve the same quantum of reductions, but were still considered to be able to have a benefit, were considered supporting measures.

Recfishwest Consideration and Recommendations on Preferred Primary Management Measures

1. West Coast Demersal Scalefish Spawning Closure


Spawning closures have long been supported by recreational fishers in Western Australia. Within the WCDS suite of species, targeted spawning closures are used as a management tool for pink snapper in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds and for baldchin groper at the Abrolhos Islands. Spawning closures also apply for pink snapper in the Gascoyne bioregion.


The EWG were provided an overview of survey results as part of their discussion, which included the following feedback on closures. Fishing closures were ranked number one as a primary management measure by survey respondents, with 42 per cent of respondents indicating that either bioregion‐wide closures, or targeted closures were their preferred primary management measure. When asked to provide the reason for their choice of preferred primary management measure, the most common response from these 42 per cent of respondents was the need to protect fish while they are most vulnerable and to ensure spawning success.

While the current effort closure period of 15th October – 15th December reduces mortality by reducing recreational fishing effort over the year, it does not align to the peak spawning period for dhufish.

The following points were considered by the EWG as part of their consideration of a spawning closure:

  • Regardless of species or sustainability status, protecting demersal fish during their peak spawning period is the right thing to do, especially when aggregated fish are easier to catch.
  • A closure during the peak period of dhufish spawning would also provide spawning protection for other demersal species;
  • The misconception that the current effort closure from 15th October – 15th December is in place to protect spawning dhufish; and
  • A closure of this kind is well understood and supported by the community

The EWG agreed shifting the current effort closure to align with peak dhufish spawning would provide the added benefit of avoiding impacts on dhufish spawning behaviour and thus maximizing reproductive output. For a spawning closures to achieve the highest level of community support and deliver the greatest benefit to dhufish sustainability, the EWG noted that it should be applied across all sectors. This advice is based on the survey results which indicate that this outcome is likely to be palatable and supported by the community. The WCDS EWG came to a consensus that it supported a bioregion‐wide spawning closure from 20th January – 20th March for the inshore suit of demersal scalefish.


Recfishwest recommend the current (15th October – December 15th) fishing effort closure move to 20th January – 20th March to align with the peak spawning period for dhufish.

2. Effort Control Measures

The EWG noted that while a move of the current WCDS effort closure into a spawning closure will provide benefit to dhufish stocks through the maximization of spawning success, it is unlikely to provide a net reduction to the current level of total mortality. To meet the Minister’s target for a 50 per cent reduction of total mortality, additional management actions will be required.

There was a strong view from the community that any reduction to the current combined daily bag limit would reduce fishing experiences to a point that it was ‘not worthwhile’ going fishing. The community had a clear preference for a reduction in fishing effort over a reduction in bag limits.

The EWG looked at a range of primary management measures that can control effort and felt individual effort and bioregion‐wide effort closures deserved further exploration including seeking feedback from recfishers at Phase 2 consultation.

Neither option presented below predominates over the other and both options should be considered mutually exclusive.

A – The option of limiting individual fishing effort


Limiting fishing effort on an individual fisher basis is commonly used in commercial fisheries where an amount of effort is apportioned to individual licences and used throughout a fishing season as the licence holder sees fit.

Given the innovative nature of this type of management for recreational fishing, the depth and breadth of its application for the WCDS fishery remains unclear but worth exploring.


One option of reducing effort in a recreational fishing context could be to allocate a set number of days per year in which to nominate to fish for demersal fish.

Alternatively, limiting individual fishing effort may take the form of fishers being provided an option to choose and nominate the times at which they reduce their individual fishing effort. This could come in the form of fishers selecting particular days or months of the year in which they don’t fish for demersal species.

In the case of reducing fishing effort for WCDS, current fishing effort varies throughout the year, mostly due to weather conditions. Therefore, fishers would likely need to reduce their individual fishing effort by either two, or three months, depending on the months chosen.

This option of limiting individual fishing effort provides fishers the flexibility to choose the months in which they will not fish.

B – The option of a new bioregion‐wide effort closure


An alternative to providing people an opportunity to nominate the times at which they reduce their individual fishing effort is an option of a new fixed bioregion‐wide closure for all fishers.


The discussion around appropriate timing of a bioregion‐wide demersal effort closure is one which considers the balance between meeting the catch reduction targets while maintaining the social and economic benefits that demersal fishing provides.

The existing bioregion‐wide demersal scalefish closure, implemented in 2009, assists in reducing total mortality for demersal scalefish by eliminating recreational fishing effort over the period 15th October – 15th December each year. The end date of this closure was chosen, in part, to allow fishers the opportunity to catch a fish prior to Christmas, and for fishing‐related businesses to maintain trade throughout the important summer months.

Creating a demersal scalefish effort closure in a period within August – October would allow fishers the opportunity to fish from November to 20th January, and fishing‐related businesses to maintain trade through this important period, while still delivering the original reduction in total mortality of WCDS that the October – December period provides.

Such an effort closure for WCDS would provide the following benefits:

  • Provide a clear, quantifiable reduction in total fishing mortality;
  • Limit the unintended catch of WCDS to incidental catches when targeting non‐ demersal species;
  • The ability to retain a combined daily bag limit of two WCDS when the fishery is open; and
  • Provide protection to any pink snapper spawning locations outside of Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, particularly in the Mid‐West

The EWG noted any new or extended demersal closure periods would be likely to have a substantial impact on the $2.4 billion dollars recreational fishers directly inject into the WA economy each year with significant flow‐on efforts to fishing‐related businesses.

The EWG saw merit in phasing in changes to management with the establishment of the spawning closure seen as the priority and further management measures implemented once the full impact of the spawning closure is known. The EWG also noted that to maintain maximum social and economic benefits, the school holiday periods of July and October should remain open to demersal fishing.


Recfishwest recommend that DPIRD seeks the views of the fishing community to further explore the options for:

  1. Introducing individual fishing effort limits for demersal species Or, alternatively

  2. A fixed demersal fishing effort closure during the third school term of each

Recfishwest Consideration and Recommendations on Supporting Management Measures

1. Increased Monitoring and Research

1.1. More timely and accurate catch and effort information


While Western Australia has some of Australia’s leading recreational fishing surveys and highest resolution catch estimates, there is always room for improvement for this information to be captured and reported in a more accurate and timely way.


Better data supports better decisions – more timely and accurate data is required for all sectors to better support the objectives of the WCDS management and the annual review process for this fishery. Consideration of electronic reporting systems should be a priority. This could be undertaken through the creation of a dedicated phone app or as part of DPIRD’s Fisheries Digital Transformation Project.


DPIRD takes immediate steps to implement a system that provides more timely and accurate information on catch, effort, fisher behaviour and fishing experiences.

1.2. Impacts of climate change on WCDS


Fisheries throughout the world are experiencing changes because of changing climatic conditions. Over the past decade, Western Australia has experienced more frequent La Nina weather patterns that have strengthened the Leeuwin current. Many marine lifeforms follow the warm water current from the north to the south, and there is growing concern it is having impact upon various fish assemblages including WCDS species.


Anecdotal feedback from recreational fishers indicates a shift in range for many WCDS species including dhufish, which are being caught more regularly along the south coast. Many fishers are interested in the impact of climate change on the distribution, biomass, and biology of these important species.


DPIRD prioritises research to investigate potential impacts of climate change on west coast demersal scalefish.

2. More Demersal Fish Stocking


Stocking programs that are backed by science may provide a pathway to bolster various demersal scalefish populations, particularly those with variable recruitment patterns.

The concept of stocking is well understood and supported by the broader community.


Fish stocking as a potential management tool was supported by survey respondents and the EWG. This requires further investigation and investment to better understand how stocking may support recovery and improve resilience of pink snapper and dhufish stocks.


Government invests in the knowledge, capability, and systems to better understand the feasibility and application of stocking dhufish and pink snapper to support stock recovery and/or maintaining demersal scalefish abundance.

3. Better understanding the participants in the WCDS


The WCDS fishery is one of the most popular recreational fisheries within Western Australia. Better understanding participants in this fishery will support better management.


A more complete understanding of participation within the WCDS would support management through:

  • Knowing the exact number of people fishing for WCDS;
  • Providing a sample frame for greater accuracy in determining catch and effort;
  • Provide a sampling frame for which to undertake surveys on fisher behaviour; and
  • Providing a database of fishers for targeted communications

This should not come at an additional cost to the fisher.


DPIRD seeks the views of the wider community on the concept of a register of participation in the WCDS.

4. Fine Scale Spawning Closures

4.1. Cockburn and Warnbro Sound Pink Snapper Spawning Closure


Each year Cockburn and Warnbro sounds support the only known spawning aggregations of pink snapper in the West Coast Bioregion. Protecting spawning fish is a well‐known, well‐understood and effective fisheries management tool.


Demersal scalefish spawning closures, including those in Cockburn and Warnbro Sound and Shark Bay for pink snapper, and Abrolhos Islands for baldchin groper are well supported and understood by fishers.

The EWG’s extensive networks provided consistent feedback about widespread confusion as to why the Government was reducing recreational catches by 50 per cent while the impact of the Wesport development on spawning pink snapper remains unknown.


Extend the pink spawning closure in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds from 1 September‐31 January to 1 August‐31 January.

4.2. Abrolhos Islands Baldchin Groper Spawning Closure


Current DPIRD research indicates that the Abrolhos Islands baldchin spawning closure does not cover the peak baldchin spawning period.


Spawning closures are highly supported by recreational fishers for many species and are considered an appropriate management measure in this context.

The EWG also raised the issue of concurrent planning activities for the Abrolhos Islands following the recent release of draft management plan for the Houtman Abrolhos Islands Fish Habitat Protection Area with several members having made submissions. It was felt dual planning activities covering overlapping areas and species was unhelpful, distracting and leading to greater confusion.


Realign the baldchin groper spawning closure at the Abrolhos Islands from 1 November – 31 January to 1 October – 31 December to cover the peak baldchin spawning period.

Halt any concurrent proposals related to bag limits and possession limits as part of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands Fish Habitat Protection Area until the WCDS process to reduce fishing mortality by 50 per cent has been finalised and the impacts of this process can be assessed.

4.3. Pink Snapper Spawning Locations Outside Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds


Little is known about the spawning behaviour of pink snapper in the West Coast Bioregion (WCB) outside of Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds. Targeted research into better understanding potential spawning locations in the Mid‐West, that may assist in providing spawning protection in this area should be undertaken.


Many recreational fishers ask about pink snapper spawning locations outside of Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, including speculating as to the connectivity of Gascoyne and Mid‐West snapper stocks. Any effort to better understand additional spawning locations will be supported by the recreational fishing community.


Recfishwest recommends that DPIRD actively investigates pink snapper catch/effort information to identify potential areas for a targeted spawning closure in the Mid‐ West/Kalbarri region, and implement spawning closures as necessary.

5. Size Limits


Many species of demersal scalefish suffer from high levels of post‐release mortality due to barotrauma. Current size limits create a legislative requirement for many WCDS to be released, even when their probability of survival is low.


The recreational fishing community are becoming increasingly aware of the role that post‐release mortality plays in impacting the management of WCDS. Current size limits that may exacerbate post‐release mortality in high and very high‐risk demersal scalefish species should be reviewed.


Remove or reduce current size limits for species where research indicates that this measure would reduce total mortality.

6. Gear Restrictions


Fishing efficiency increases with the number of lures or baits on a line. This is demonstrated through the use of multiple hooks on a line for many commercial fishing applications, where fishing efficiency is important, as well as current recreational fishing rules that allow up to three lures or baits when fishing for WCDS.


Reducing the number of lures or baits able to be used while fishing for WCDS will reduce fishing efficiency and therefore reduce total fishing mortality.


Reduce the number of baits or lures per line to one when fishing for WCDS species.

7. Bag and Boat Limits


The current boat and bag limits for WA dhufish may exacerbate post‐release mortality through the legislative requirement to release fish.


The recreational fishing community are becoming increasingly aware of the role that post‐release mortality plays in impacting the management of WCDS. Fishers will support the removal or alteration of legislated measures that contribute to total fishing mortality.


The current boat limit for WA dhufish be increased or removed if research indicates that this measure would reduce total mortality.

8. Managing Offshore and Inshore Demersal Scalefish Suites Independently


Fishing for offshore demersal species such as grey band cod and hapuku has become increasingly popular over the last decade. The fishing methods and locations for catching these species afford the opportunity for them to be managed independently of inshore demersal scalefish.


Managing offshore and inshore demersal scalefish suites of species separately may provide fishers an opportunity to fish for one of these suites when they are not able to access inshore demersal species.


Separate the management of the offshore demersal suite of fish from the inshore demersal suite.

9. Shark Depredation


Shark depredation continues to impact on total fishing mortality of WCDS, particularly in the northern part of the bioregion, both from fish being bitten while on the line, and from fish being taken after release.


Shark depredation is acknowledged as one of the most pressing issues in recreational fishing in areas from the Mid‐West to the Kimberley. Increasing reports of shark depredation are coming from the lower west coast, including the metropolitan region.


Future research, testing deterrents and education of fishers to be focused on practical ways to reduce the impact of depredation.

10. Increased fisher education


The knowledge and understanding of demersal scalefish biology and its impact on management has continued to increase within the fisheries management community. This has not yet translated into a detailed understanding of this by the broader fishing community.


Fisher education must be a key component of the WCDS management package. It is imperative that fishers have the best understanding of issues such as post‐release mortality and best fishing practices.

The EWG and Recfishwest advise that a well‐resourced support package, above and beyond the capabilities of the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF), Recfishwest and DPIRD, be established to support and enhance education and alternative fishing opportunities which will provide benefit to over 750,000 people within the State.

The EWG noted tackle stores and charter operators are a significant education asset given their connection to fishers and that any education campaign should factor in the role these businesses can play.


Government support, implementation of a multi‐year joint education campaign to educate and inform fishers on best practices when fishing for demersal scalefish.

11. Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme


Voluntary fisheries adjust schemes can support sustainability imperatives by leaving more fish in the water, and support commercial fishers who wish to leave the industry by giving them a well‐compensated exit pathway.


A VFAS would reduce total fishing effort leaving more fish in the water.


Establish a VFAS for the WCDS so licence‐holders who wish to exit the fishery can do so with proper compensation

Need to address potential recreational effort shift outside of the WCB

The EWG noted that any changes to management of WCDS may lead to a shift in recreational fishing effort into neighbouring bioregions. This has already been observed given the differences in bag limits between the WCB and other bioregions and is likely to increase if management measures introduced into the WCB further reduce fishing opportunities. Recfishwest believes that changes to management must be made with a holistic view and that a review of management measures in neighbouring bioregions should be undertaken to assess any potential impacts of shifting recreational fishing effort.

Need to assess fishing methods that do not contribute to post‐release mortality

Many of the recommendations contained herein seek to address the issue of post‐release mortality. While a significant portion of WCDS fishing is undertaken by line‐fishers, spearfishing does account for a portion of catches. Spearfishing is a selective method that can target individual species without any bycatch. It may be appropriate for this method to be considered suitable for some non‐indicator WCDS at times when line fishing may be limited.

Need to mitigate the impact of the Minister’s decision to reduce recreational catches by 50 per cent

The Minister’s Decision to reduce recreational catches by 50 per cent will significantly impact on small family‐run businesses, fishing clubs, communities and tens of thousands of people who simply want to catch their favourite fish. The impact of this decision will likely reach beyond the West Coast Bioregion as people move north and south to access fishing experiences, they would have traditionally enjoyed closer to home.

Mitigating the impact of whatever management changes the Minister chooses to implement will require a package of investments. These investments should aim to keep people on the water by redirecting demersal fishing effort towards other fishing opportunities thereby ensuring the economic and social values provided by recreational fishing in the West Coast are preserved.

This package of investments will need to create new fishing experiences such as a network of FADs, freshwater fishing alternatives to trout, installation of artificial reefs for non‐ demersal species, and stocking to create demersal fishing alternatives. Any package should also address latent effort within the charter sector as well as direct support for fishing and charter businesses to ensure job losses and closures of small family‐run businesses is avoided.

Recfishwest is supportive of leveraging recreational fishing licence fees towards a package to address sustainability concerns, resolve longstanding IFM failings and develop new fishing opportunities. Such a package can be designed to leave more demersal fish in the water, address many of the recommendations Recfishwest has made, save jobs and small businesses, and finally realise the optimum use of demersal fish resources in the west coast in line with the objects of fisheries legislation.

We thank the Department and Minister for the opportunity to consult the community using the phased approach, and we look forward to continuing to work with DPIRD to ensure that quality fishing experiences for WCDS are maintained.

Yours sincerely



Dr Andrew Rowland
Chief Executive Officer


19 July 2022

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