Crab Changes: Your Questions Answered

We’ve received some great feedback from you about the new crab management changes announced this week, along with a number of questions you’ve had. Here’s answers to some of those questions – don’t hesitate to contact us if there’s anything else you want to know or have any feedback for us.

Q. I fish in the Peel-Harvey region, how’s it going to affect me?
A. The seasonal closure will be extended by a month and will now run from 1 September to 30 November, but with no changes to the bag limit of 10 and boat limit of 20. These changes should ensure the crabs have longer to grow and moult before they are able to be caught. This means there will be more size crabs for once the season starts in the summer, whereas in recent seasons there has been large numbers of crabs caught early in the season that are under the 127mm minimum size limit. We reckon with more protection given for breeding female crabs, we will see more abundant and bigger crabs around in the next two to three years making for a better crabbing experience for everyone.

Q. Why has the Swan now got a special limit of five crabs?
A. Over the last few years there has been an explosion in the popularity in crabbing in the Swan and Canning rivers placing considerable pressure on crab stocks in the system. The introduction of a special five-crab limit for the Swan recognises the trophy nature of the fishery, which includes bigger sized crabs that were typical in this fishery but have been in decline in recent years. The new limit and the introduction of a seasonal closure should ensure bigger, better quality crabs will be ready to crab for when the season opens in the summer. In the next two to three years, these changes should see the re-establishment of the Swan/Canning as a crab fishery famed for its quality sized crabs. The boat limit of 20 still applies, but you will now need four RFBLs (recreational boat fishing licences) to take your boat limit.

Q. Do I now need four RFBLs if I am boat fishing for crabs if we want to take our 20 crab boat limit in the Swan/Canning rivers?
A. Yes – the bag limit is now five crabs per fisher. In order to take a boat limit of 20 crabs, you will need at least four people on board who have a recreational fishing from boat licence. Click on this link on the Fisheries website here http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Fishing-and-Aquaculture/Recreational-Fishing/Recreational-Fishing-Rules/Pages/Bag-And-Size-Limits-Explained.aspx for more information.

Q. Tell me more about this commercial licence buy-back scheme?
A. As part of the package announced by the Minister for Fisheries, and following an agreed proposal to the Minister and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) between us and the commercial sector, 15 oceanic commercial fishing licences in waters from Cockburn Sound to Bunbury will be bought out by the government and permanently closed to commercial fishing. This will result in protection of the female breeding stock underpinning the stocks’ sustainability. This announcement is particularly important for protecting female breeding stock when they leave the estuaries and use the nearshore oceanic areas to spawn each winter. These female crabs traditionally made up a significant proportion of the commercial catch during winter.

Q. Does the spring closure apply to Geographe Bay?
A. No, Geographe Bay will remain open all year-round. The only change in Geographe Bay will be that from 1 December, you will only be able have a maximum of five female crabs within your bag limit of 10 crabs.

Q. Does the closure apply to commercial fishers as well as recreational crabbers?
A. Yes – the three-month spring closure (1 September 1 to 30 November inclusive) applies to both recreational and commercial crab fishing in oceanic and estuarine waters from the Swan/Canning down to just south of Bunbury.

Q. You say Cockburn Sound might be reopening for recreational crabbing. When is this likely to happen?
A. We have long had an interest in reopening Cockburn Sound for recreational crabbing. Now with the buy-back of the commercial crab fishing licences in Cockburn Sound, there is no reason why the Sound shouldn’t reopen to recreational crabbing by next summer.

Dhufish Boat Limit to Remain at Two

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.