Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland takes a look back at a year of intensive activity by the peak recfishing sector body and how we can meet the challenges ahead for fishing and reap the opportunities.
“It’s been an intensive year for Recfishwest with several issues and developments requiring concerted advocacy efforts to achieve better outcomes for WA’s 700,000-plus strong fishing community.
The biggest issue impacting on a large proportion of the fishing community was of course the Government’s proposals to introduce a nine-month ban on west coast demersal fishing.
We shared the dismay of fishers at this proposal and were not surprised to see the huge backlash it prompted.
We strongly advised the Government that a ban of this length would have a devastating impact on our fishing way of life and all the benefits derived from time on the water shared with mums, dads, kids and mates and the opportunity to catch a quality bottom fish for dinner.
Furthermore, it was clear a hefty ban of this size would be a wrecking ball through many of the coastal family businesses reliant on fishing tourism in towns like Jurien Bay.
Advocating for a better way for demersals
On one thing we emphatically agreed with the Government, though, the sustainability of these treasured West Aussie fish must come first. Our sector has a strong-track record in putting the fish first – no one cares more about these fish than we do. This was evidenced by the strong appetite articulated by the near to 6,000 fishers who took our west coast demersal survey for a cross sector closure for dhufish coinciding with the fish’s peak spawning period.
The alternative package Recfishwest put forward to DPIRD with the input of our expert working group would have met sustainability targets, provided spawning protection for dhufish while keeping fishing families on the water for longer throughout the year.
Although disappointed by the final outcome, we were able to get the Government to roll back the closure of the fishery to six months and commit to a $10 million fishing support package, which included funding an extensive education program and to funding the Statewide FADs program for the next three years.
We welcomed these commitments – having a Government-backed Statewide FADs program following the successful pilot program we ran with clubs and the community funded by fishing licence money, is undoubtedly a good result for the medium to large boat fishers.
Critically, in the support package, $2.5 million of public money was earmarked for a Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme (VFAS), which will offer commercial operators fair and reasonable compensation to voluntarily exit the fishery.
This is a golden opportunity to set right a broken fisheries policy as it could potentially pave the way for a fairer and more equitable sharing of overall sustainable catch between recreational, charter and commercial fishing sectors. Subsequently, we are keenly awaiting the VFAS outcome at the time of writing this article.
Highlighting the value of fishing
The debate around managing these community-owned fish stocks, and other challenges such as the proposed new marine park on the south coast and the extension to Marmion Marine Park, has highlighted to us that decision-makers do not often understand or take into account the importance and value of fishing to the WA lifestyle and culture.
The objective of fisheries management is to optimise the social and economic benefits from our publicly-owned fish stocks – this is enshrined in law within the State’s Fisheries Act.
Recent experiences, however, suggest the social and economic value that fishing provides is not adequately considered when it comes to important fisheries management decisions.
That is why we have launched our Cast of Thousands Campaign to celebrate and elevate the recognition of the importance of fishing to the WA lifestyle and culture into the awareness of decision-makers, politicians, and the broader WA community.
Working with our creative partners Lateral Aspect, we developed three advertisements featuring three fishing personalities – Western Angler Editor Scott Coghlan, former pole-vaulting world champion, fishing presenter and Recfishwest Board member Emma George, and Katlyn Yeeda – aka ‘the Derby Jetty Queen.’
You’ve probably seen them already, but each ad being rolled out through multiple media platforms across the State highlights how fishing gives hundreds of thousands of West Australians the opportunity to relax, enjoy enhanced well-being and mental health, social interaction with family and friends, connection with nature and ultimately a lot of fun!
We’re also reaching a broader audience through the campaign explaining Recfishwest’s role in championing the rights and interests of 700,000 West Aussie recfishers, sustainability, fishing safety, research and the environment, as well as most importantly keeping the fun in fishing.
The overarching purpose of the campaign is a rallying cry to the grassroots of our hugely diverse community to unite under one banner to continue to protect what’s most important to all of us fishers.
Great community outcomes through successful fisheries management
When decision-makers factor in the huge benefits fishing brings to our community, the results are dramatic. Not only beneficial to enhancing fishing experiences, but also to ensuring abundant and resilient fish stocks as well as healthy habitats and environment.
In this vein, it’s been really pleasing to see the strong recovery of herring – the people’s fish – resulting in the increase of the bag limit of 12 to 20 fish for these great accessible fish enjoyed by fishers of all ages and abilities.
More than 4,000 fishers provided Recfishwest their views through our bag limit survey showing how passionately people care about herring.
Crucially, being in a position to substantially increase the bag limit without any threat to the future abundance of herring stocks followed the Government’s commitment to prioritise herring for recreation and consumption purposes in line with ensuring the highest and best use of the fishery under the Fisheries Act.
Similarly, we were pleased with the results of the latest salmon stock assessment which showed salmon are bigger, more abundant and resistant to environmental change than they have been in decades.
The stock assessment showed that individual salmon are older, larger and around in much higher numbers now than they were 10 to 15 years ago because of a reduction in commercial fishing pressure.
The science confirmed what we have been seeing in recent seasons coming through in catches with 90-cm plus fish to near metre-long fish caught on a more regular basis.
Furthermore, such a healthy population of salmon results in a stock that is much more resilient to environmental change and future predictions of greater fluctuations in oceanographic conditions.
This is a management success story. We have abundant stocks that are continuing to flourish, full of large adult fish, well prepared for a changing climate and a salmon fishery that is enjoyed tens of thousands, creating more than $330 million of economic activity annually throughout the southern coastal regions of WA.
If that doesn’t show the massive value derived by our community from fish stocks managed to optimise social and economic benefits, then I don’t know what does!
Investing in infrastructure to put the fun in fishing
Just as healthy fish stocks are critical to the quality of fishing we are able to enjoy in WA, so too is maintaining and enhancing fishing access – structures like jetties provide fishing platforms for coastal towns like Busselton and are hugely popular with community members and visitors alike.
You only need to look at the popularity of Kaytlyn Yeeda’s Derby jetty Queen’s Facebook page to see how these structures become a centre point for passionate fishing communities like Derby.
That is why will be working intensively over the next year to develop recommendations, in line with the Fishing Development Plan the Government committed to, in upgrading and expanding the State’s fishing infrastructure, including jetties and boat ramps.
We are also working as hard as ever in the creation of new enhanced habitat in the form of artificial reefs to support safe and accessible fishing as well as more productive fisheries. Currently we are progressing more than 10 new reef proposals for coastal communities including Albany, Kalbarri, Carnarvon, Karratha/Dampier, Port Hedland and Broome.
Join Recfishwest’s cast of thousands today
Our purpose as the peak sector body is to great fishing experiences for all in the WA community forever. We have an outstanding record of achievements in supporting the sustainability of fish species and their habitat and representing the rights and interests of West Australian fishers. Our ability to advocate on behalf of our members and WA fishing is amplified by the massive support we receive from passionate members, partners and business supporters to whom we are truly grateful.
However, as I write this article, there are many challenges we face now and in the months ahead. So, if you’re not already a member, I’d strongly encourage you to join Recfishwest to help further strengthen our collective voice as a sector it’s free or $10 for premium membership – jump on our website for more details. If you are a member, I encourage you to continue to rally alongside us under the fishing banner, get your family and mates on board too and stand up for this way of life we all love.”
Click here to become a Recfishwest member and if you do so by before 15 December, you’ll go in the running for seven amazing fishing prizes!