The West Coast demersal fishing closure begins on 15 October and ends on 15 December to give high-value species like dhuies, pinkies and baldies a break from fishing pressure to help with their ongoing recovery.
But just because you can’t target demersals in the West Coast, doesn’t mean you have to stop fishing for one minute – there are are a plethora of alternative fishing opportunities available while the closure is in effect. Some of these include; crayfish, southern bluefin tuna, squid, freshwater fishing, Samson fish, whiting, estuarine and beach species like flathead, tailor and mulloway. So whether you’re looking for your drag to sing, targeting a new species you’ve never caught before or chase a tasty feed, there’s something out there for you.
Here’s a couple of articles that should give you a few ideas and tips for having a crack at something different this spring/early summer.
While we await the Department of Regional Development and Primary Industry’s latest stock assessment for West Coast demersal scale fish, it’s important anglers continue to stick to the closure by not fishing for demersals to assist with their ongoing recovery.
This includes not targeting demersals for catch and release purposes as the survival rate for many of these species following their release is not great for a number of reasons including barotrauma, hooking injuries and being knocked off by sharks – all of which impacts on the stocks’ health.
Remember the latest management changes, including seasonal closures, for both pink snapper and blue swimmer crabs in the West Coast Bioregion came into effect on 1 September.
Both of these closures are critical in protecting spawning snapper and crabs, helping to secure the future of the fantastic fishing experiences both of these iconic recreational species offer in the metro area and South West.
Recfishwest joined the Minister for Fisheries Dave Kelly in Mandurah and colleagues from the commercial fishing sector to announce a series of changes that represent a watershed moment in the management of the crab fisheries in Perth and the South West.
The significant reform will offer much more protection for the female crab breeding stock and secure a more resilient recreational crab fishery with more, bigger crabs and a better crabbing experience for everyone.
Through some constructive negotiations with the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC), the Southern Seafood Producers WA (SSPWA), we reached a point of agreement that has secured the best outcome for recreational fishers given the very real sustainability issues the fishery was facing.
Taking on board the views of nearly 4,000 recreational fishers who responded to our survey on the initial discussion paper, we put forward 10 proposed management changes to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) in November last year.
The package announced by the Minister today met eight out of 10 of our recommendations – a great result, particularly in the context of what had been proposed.
A stark alternative
But before we got there, we were potentially looking down the barrel of a broad-scale five month closure from the Swan/Canning to Geographe Bay (inclusive) and a night curfew on crab fishing between 11pm and 4am.
This blunt proposal by DPIRD galvanized ourselves, WAFIC and the SSPWA to sit down and hammer out a joint response which would ensure we could get a sensible, better outcome by working together.
Had we ended up in a Mexican stand-off with the commercial sector and DPIRD, we could have seen the process painfully drag out – possibly for years – which would have been in no one’s interests and yet again delayed vital management intervention.
Instead, we arrived at the following positive outcomes for the recreational fishing community:
A buy-back of commercial fishing licences from oceanic crab fisheries in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds and from Mandurah to Bunbury, leading to their permanent closure and with an indication from the Minister that this will happen swiftly as a matter of priority.
The buy-back opens the door to the very real possibility of Cockburn Sound opening for recreational crab fishing in the near future.
A mixture of management measures introduced that will, within near future, result in better crabbing and bigger crabs and help to establish the Swan/Canning system as a trophy crab fishery right on Perth’s doorstep.
The blunt flat five-month closure across the resource and a night-time crab fishing curfew was averted avoiding impact on local businesses in Geographe Bay and Mandurah that benefit from crab fishers flocking to town. Instead, a three-month September to November closure has been introduced, excluding Geographe Bay which will remain open all year-round.
In Geographe Bay, a new limit of five female crabs within the bag limit of ten will ensure more female crabs remain in the system leading to bigger crabs and better crabbing in the near future.
Protecting a prized part of the WA lifestyle
Increasing pressure on Perth and South West crab stocks has taken its toll in recent years leading to an ongoing decline in the number of size crabs.
The writing has clearly been on the wall for some time and those of you who completed our survey on the future of the resource also backed our message loud and clear: the sustainability of the crabs must come first.
Negotiating the best outcome for our community
We will always do whatever it takes to ensure the best outcome for our members and our community. Delivering on that commitment was/is paramount for us for such an iconic fishery as this. That meant doing the wise and mature thing and working with our colleagues in the commercial sector to achieve the best outcome.
In the complex world of fisheries management, with the often fiercely competing interests of different sectors, being able to negotiate an outcome like this was a watershed moment.
Recfishwest is looking forward to seeing the flow-on effects of these management changes in the near future, resulting in many more people across the board enjoying better crabbing and catching bigger, better quality crabs.
The Department of Fisheries today raised concerns over the robustness of pink snapper stocks along the west coast.
On the back of an announcement around the annual closure for pink snapper fishing in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, DPIRD Fisheries Management Officer Shane Walters had the following message for fishers.
“It’s important fishers understand pink snapper have variable recruitment with only one to two strong years each decade and the majority of the current West Coast pink snapper catch is attributed to a good recruitment year in 2005”
Mr Walters said recent research into pink snapper spawning activity in the Sounds and recreational fishing activity targeting pink snapper aggregations, prior to the spawning closure, may require a review of the closure to ensure the species nursery is adequately protected.
Recreational fishers have a long history of protecting pink snapper stocks on the west coast, with the implementation of the Cockburn and Warnbro Sound spawning closures being driven by recreational fishers after witnessing large catches of spawning fish during spring.
Recfishwest will continue to work with Fisheries to ensure that snapper stocks are managed appropriately to ensure the current level of high quality fishing remains.
A stock assessment for all west coast demersal scalefish, including pink snapper is due shortly.
Read the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (Fisheries Division) media statement here.
There’s plenty of misconception in the fishing community around the management of our favourite demersal species in the West Coast bioregion. The demersal fishing ban begins on the 15th October and ends on the 15th December so we thought it is worth answering some of the commonly asked questions around the current status of these highly sought-after species.
How does the demersal closure protect spawning fish when many of them don’t spawn during this time?
It’s a common misconception that the demersal closure was implemented to protect demersal fish whilst they are spawning. This is not true. In fact, this closure was implemented to reduce the overall catch of demersal fish by reducing fishing effort during this period. This period represented an adequate balance between achieving biological outcomes whilst having only limited social impact.
Species such as Pink Snapper do spawn during this time; however, they are subject to additional spawning closures in Cockburn and Warnbro sounds.
Dhufish are known to spawn at different times of year in different locations, so a spawning closure for Dhufish is not an effective tool for managing the take of this species.
While some believe the impact on fishers is high, it has been acknowledged that the demersal closure is playing its part in managing the catch of these important demersal species.
Recfishwest advocated raising the Dhufish boat limit last year. Why didn’t you advocate removing the demersal ban instead?
In a nutshell, there was room to catch more Dhufish, but not more Pink Snapper, so the Dhufish boat limit was the most obvious management arrangement to alter in order to provide increased amenity to fishers without impacting on the sustainability of any other species.
Research indicated that the catch of Dhufish was below the target (50% of what people were catching in 2005/06) set by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and Recfishwest believed that there was scope to increase the Dhufish boat limit to take pressure off Pink Snapper and Baldchin Groper. Unfortunately, catches of Pink Snapper were right on the 50% target, so any change to the demersal ban as a whole would have had an adverse effect on snapper catches.
Recfishwest is currently awaiting the next stock assessment for west coast demersal species, which will inform any management changes for these species going forward.
I’m catching lots of small Dhufish and Pink Snapper, does this mean we will see a relaxation of rules in the near future?
High abundances of juvenile fish is always a great sign. In the case of Pink Snapper and Dhufish, who live over 40 years old, any recovery of the fishery and therefore relaxation of rules must be underpinned by proper research. Given the slow growth of these fish, it’s important that we see multiple years of good juvenile recruitment before any decision is made on management changes. Right now, it’s important the recreational sector maintain their catches at current levels.
I see people catching and releasing Dhufish, is this recommended practice?
No. Dhufish, as well as other demersal fish, suffer from barotrauma (pictured below). This is caused by the expansion of gasses inside the fish’s organs as it ascends through the water column during capture. You will see the signs of barotrauma such as organs protruding from the fish’s mouth, or the fish’s eyes appearing like they are ‘on stalks’.
Barotrauma significantly reduces the fish’s chance of survival once released, and although methods such as proper handling and the use of a release weight increases the survival rate, the best practice is to keep the Dhufish you intend to take home then fish for other species or move to new ground. Continually fishing the same ground and releasing Dhufish after Dhufish is not recommended practice.
We all love the opening of the West Coast demersal season because it offers plenty of great fishing opportunities for the community. Looking after our fish stocks is our number one priority, and everyone needs to play their role. With good reports of juvenile fish around and people understanding the importance of seasonal closures, there’s no reason why our demersal stocks can’t be great again in the coming years.