Recfishwest was pleased to hear Environment Minister Reece Whitby talk up the importance of Cockburn Sound and its seagrass habitat at a recent partnership agreement signing between Cockburn Power Boats Club (CPBC) and Ozfish for the Seeds for Snapper initiative that Recfishwest was instrumental in developing.
At the signing which took place at Woodman Point earlier this month, Minister Whitby admitted, “Over many years, we haven’t always exactly looked after Cockburn Sound. The seagrass has depleted dramatically…there are multiple uses and pressures on this valuable ecosystem and it’s taken its toll.
“Cockburn Sound plays a very important role economically, but it also plays a very important role socially and culturally – we know that anglers love it. We know the significance it has for our community and why it’s so important.
“Seagrass meadows are very critical for our fish. They provide a safe sanctuary, a nursery, a habitat and seagrass is also important to stabilise the sediment and it protects against erosion as well.
“It’s wonderful habitat to support some of the species that exist here that people are keen on – pink snapper, King George whiting, herring, fish that we enjoy all along the metro coast and providing that nursery environment for these fish is also very vital.”
The partnership agreement signing deal the Minister was attending saw CPBC sign a formal deal supporting the Seeds for Snapper seagrass restoration habitat project run by Ozfish and supported by Recfishwest.
Holding the Minister to his words
Recfishwest Operations Lead Leyland Campbell, who also spoke at the event, welcomed the Environment Minister’s comments.
“It is good to hear that Minister Whitby has an appreciation of how important Cockburn Sound and its seagrass meadows that support the Sound’s abundant sea life is to the community,” said Leyland.
“We will be sure to hold the Minister to his words ahead of plans for the Westport international container port. What the Minister said highlights why questions must be answered on the impact dredging millions of tons of sand will have on the seagrass and the fish that rely on these meadows.
“That said, we are glad to see CPBC get behind Seeds for Snapper and we hope to see many other partners coming on board for this important project.”
If you were a betting person, you’d bet your Stella on Cockburn Sound being in the top two metro fishing locations – and for good reason.
Cockburn Sound is a safe, accessible place that has provided great fishing for generations. Its seagrass meadows support a huge range of species and provide important nursery habitats for many of our favourite fish. The unique hydrodynamics of the Sound also support the biggest spawning aggregations of pink snapper in the West Coast Bioregion. There aren’t many places in the world that have all this on the doorstep of their capital city.
However, a shadow looms large over the future of the Sound with a glut of industrial developments planned. The biggest of these, of course, is the Government’s Westport plan to build an international container port in Kwinana by 2032 to replace Fremantle port.
To date, the knowledge gaps on how the Westport development will impact the environment are big enough to drive a fleet of mega-tankers through. Questions about how the significant dredging required or how ships the length of Optus stadium’s oval will impact on Cockburn Sound’s unique aquatic habitat remain unanswered.
So, what do we know about the development at this stage?
What exactly is being proposed for the new port in Cockburn Sound?
The Government wants to build a new container port adjacent to Anketell Road which will also require a new 18-metre-deep shipping channel that will run through the heart of the Sound. The map below provided by Westport shows a basic outline of what is proposed. The map says ‘Indicative only’ because Westport is still trying to answer questions about what environmental impact the port will have so they can present a business case to the WA Government in 2024. This business case will include a recommended port design.
How will this impact on the Sound’s habitat and my fishing?
At this stage, it is impossible to say and therein lies a big problem.
Incredibly, the environmental impact a new harbour would have on Cockburn Sound was unknown when the Westport Taskforce recommended a new port be built in Cockburn Sound. Recfishwest met with both the then Ports and Fisheries Ministers to raise our concerns and, subsequently, the Government committed $14 million to undertake a science program designed to answer some of the questions Westport had chosen not to answer before making their recommendation.
These questions include what impact will dredging millions of tons of sand have on the marine environment. Managed inadequately, this dredging has the potential to smother the remaining seagrass which has already declined by nearly 80 per cent since the 1960s. Initiatives like Seeds for Snapper run by Ozfish and supported by Recfishwest are attempting to restore lost seagrass habitat, but there are fears these efforts could be for nothing given the scale and duration of the dredging planned for the Westport development.
Westport itself acknowledges this is a big issue that will need to be addressed:
“Marine fauna in Cockburn Sound may be affected through impacts such as habitat loss associated with excavation and reclamation, dredging-related turbidity, and increased vessel movements. Certain fauna may be more vulnerable to different pressures at different stages of their life cycles, such as the larval stage. Further, impacts on fauna that form integral parts of the wider ecosystem and food web (such as forage fish eaten by numerous predators) can result in larger ecological consequences.” – Westport Future Port Recommendations May 2020.
The science program, as well as the mitigation strategy Westport has committed to, must address key issues such as this.
What is the science program going to tell us? How can we be sure the results are going to be genuine?
The Cockburn Sound science program involves more than 100 scientists working across 30 projects, looking at ecosystem modelling, water and sediment quality, fisheries and aquatic resources, hydrodynamic modelling, social values, noise and impacts on apex predators and iconic species.
Westport claims information collected through the science program will contribute to its business case, as well as inform its mitigation strategy and environmental impact assessment.
Recfishwest will be closely scrutinising the science program’s results, to ensure they stack up, are made publicly available and adequately inform the port design. There is already a question mark, however, over how some of these projects will do this given they are due to finish after the port design has been finalised.
What is the process and timeline for the completion of this development?
So far there is little publicly available information on timelines for the project which is disappointing given the size, scale and importance of the project to the WA tax-paying public. We were able to get the following response from Westport on this:
The preferred option for the container terminal and supply chain later will be identified later this year.
The Westport business case will be provided to the WA Government in mid-2024 and will outline when the new port and logistics network should be developed and how the transition of container trade to Kwinana will work.
The final science projects are timetabled to conclude by June 2024, however, the referral to the EPA is scheduled to be ready for submission in late 2023.
The Public Environmental Review (PER), when members of the public have the opportunity to comment on the proposals, is due in March 2025.
If given the green light, dredging is due to start in November 2027 with the port operational by 2032.
What other potential projects are in the pipeline for Cockburn Sound?
Port Rockingham Marina
CBH Kwinana Fertiliser project
Henderson large vessel dry dock
AUKUS submarine base
Another desalination plant
CIVMEC submarine rescue facility
The cumulative impact on the Cockburn Sound environment of these developments could result in “death by a thousand cuts” with each individual development doing their bit to result in significant long-term damage. This is why simply using the current environmental state of Cockburn Sound as a benchmark for future developments is not appropriate.
Cockburn Sound is a recovering ecosystem, after decades of industrialisation, we are only now starting to see the environment of the Sound improve and we need to ensure any developments do not jeopardise this recovery.
Is there anything we can do to have any influence on the final outcome?
As a community we need to ask ourselves what do we want for the future of Cockburn Sound? A heavily industrialised aquatic wasteland or a healing, flourishing marine environment that can continue to support fantastic, safe, accessible and family friendly fishing?
Westport will no doubt claim we can have both, however, history suggests otherwise. With a continuing lack of information coming from Westport, it is important you tune into Recfishwest channels and keep yourself informed, so when the time comes to submit your views as part of the Public Environmental Review process, you are able to do so in an informed manner.
Consider joining our cast of thousands as a Recfishwest member to help strengthen our ability to advocate in the interests of WA fishers on this and a multitude of other issues that impact on our treasured fishing.
What an awesome turn-out for Snapper Guardians 2023 – with the biggest crowd in the event’s history coming down to help us release juvenile pink snapper into Cockburn Sound!
What’s more it kicked off a ‘super-stocking’ week which has seen 40,000 juvenile pink snapper and 15,000 yellowtail king fish released into metro waters in less than seven days!
With COVID unfortunately disrupting the community attendance at the event in 2021 and 2022, Recfishwest was delighted to see hundreds of fishing families turn up to roll up their sleeves and help release 5,000 juvenile pinkies to show how much they value this iconic species, the Sound and the fantastic fishing experiences it supports on Perth’s doorstep.
This was followed by another 35,000 pink snapper released between Fremantle Sailing Club and the Cockburn Power Boats Club earlier this week, while 15,000 yellowtail kingfish were also released on Wedneday between the same locations to spice up future fishing experiences in metro waters.
“The fantastic response we had to Snapper Guardians 2023 shows the community’s care and passion for Cockburn Sound and the fantastic, safe, accessible fishery it supports is stronger than ever before,” said CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “A big shout out to everyone who came down from the community to support this year’s event.”
“Fishing is always better when the fish are biting and we don’t just want to see sustainable fisheries – we want abundant ones. That’s why it’s great to see the Government’s commitment to fish stocking initiatives like the pink snapper and yellowtail kingfish programs.
Check out the behind-the-scenes footage from the DPIRD Fremantle hatchery and the kingie cannon firing new yellowtail kingfish into their new home on the YouTube link below!
“We want to see more of this in the future and a well-developed scientific monitoring program that can give us a better understanding of the effectiveness and potential scalability of these popular iniativies,” added Andrew.
A big Recfishwest shout out also to the team from DPIRD’s Fremantle hatchery, who collected the pink snapper eggs in early November of 2022, hatched and reared the pinkies in their aquaculture tanks through the most vulnerable stage of their lives, before transporting the 90-day-old fish down to Jervoise Bay, Woodman Point for release into their new home.
We would also like to thank our community fish stocking partners Daiwa, for helping us make this event possible.
Rest assured, with the State Government promising more funding and support for future stocking events such as Snapper Guardians, we will ensure this great event continues for many years to come and becomes even bigger and better.
Were you one of the Snapper Guardians who rolled up your sleeves over the weekend? Check out some of the action and big smiles from our latest event below and thank you to all attendees who put on the bathers and snorkels to help make the 2023 Snapper Guardians event one for the ages.
Recfishwest is delighted to announce our 2023 Snapper Guardians community fish stocking event will go ahead this year at Woodman Point in Cockburn Sound on Saturday, 11 February following a two-year break.
It is welcome news for mums, dads and kids who can again attend this popular event in person to help us release 5,000 juvenile pink snapper into Cockburn Sound, following the cancellation of the community event in 2021 and 2022 due to COVID.
Even though we reluctantly had to cancel these public events, COVID didn’t stop us releasing pink snapper into the Sound with 100,000 released last year, while 20,000 were released in 2021.
Where: 10am on Saturday, 11 February at Jervoise Bay, Woodman Point (see map below)
What to bring: All you need is your family, camera, hat, sunscreen, bathers and a snorkel if you want to get in the drink and get an underwater view of the juvenile snapper swimming off into their new home.
Pink snapper have always been strongly associated with Cockburn Sound, which supports the West Coast Bioregion’s largest pink snapper spawning aggregation, and which is treasured by the local community as a safe, accessible and fantastic fishery on Perth’s doorstep.
“The recreational fishing community has a strong track record in driving initiatives that safeguard demersal fish stocks,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland, “and events like Snapper Guardians highlight to decision-makers how much local people care about the future of these fish and Cockburn Sound as a whole. This is particularly important given the recent west coast demersal changes and the Government’s plans to build a new port in Cockburn Sound.
“It’s been great to see how the community has effectively made Snapper Guardians its own and we are proud and excited to welcome back community members of all ages to roll up their sleeves and enjoy the special experience of watching these pinkies swim off into the Sound.”
A community-based fish stocking program
Snapper Guardians was launched in response to the 2015 fish kill that saw a horrific number of adult pink snapper wash up dead along the shoreline of Cockburn Sound.
On the back of the community outcry that ensued, Recfishwest launched a crowd-funded fish stocking program in the sound.
Today the program is supported by DPIRD’s aquaculture centre in Fremantle where the juvenile snapper are hatched and reared through the most vulnerable phase of their life cycle before being released to maximise their survival opportunity.
Since the inaugural Snapper Guardians event held in 2016, more than 220,000 pink snapper have been released into Cockburn Sound for future generations of fishers to enjoy catching.
Watch the Snapper Guardians story below.
Thousands more pinkies to be released in the metro area
The Government has committed to stocking another 35,000 juvenile at Cockburn Power Boats Club and at Fremantle Sailing Club around mid-February, bringing the total number of pink snapper making a splash in metro waters in 2023 to 40,000.
A big Recfishwest thanks to Daiwa as our community fish stocking partners for their continuing support of our community events in 2023 and to the crew at DPIRD’s Fremantle fish hatchery who continue to help make Snapper Guardians happen .
Please note, parents and carers are responsible for and must remain with their children at all times.
Recfishwest is encouraging metro fishers to get involved and back in Ozfish’s latest Seeds for Snapper drive – its program to help restore critical seagrass habitat in Cockburn Sound.
Since 2018, Recfishwest has collaborated with OzFish and the University of Western Australia to restore seagrass meadows in Cockburn Sound, which are vital as a nursery ground for countless fish and species of marine life including pink snapper, King George whiting, herring, Western rock lobster, prawns, squid and blue swimmer crabs.
Now in it’s fifth year, Seeds for Snapper has already helped collect more than one million seeds in Cockburn Sound, but as volunteers are the driving force behind this project, Recfishwest is encouraging everyone to dig deep and help out by collecting the seeds or dispersing them.
The Seeds for Snapper program relies on community support from recreational anglers, divers, businesses and residents to help disperse the seeds, which are the key to helping rejuvenate juvenile fish habitats.
It is estimated that a single hectare of restored seagrass produces on average 207 kilograms of fish per year and stores 35 times more carbon than the same equivalent area of rainforest.
Over the last century, 85 per cent of these crucial seagrass meadows – equivalent to nearly 2,000 Optus Stadium-sized ovals – have been lost in Cockburn Sound.
With the Government recently proposing a shock eight to nine-month west coast demersal species ban per year and with the Government’s plans to build a new port in Cockburn Sound starting in 2027, the Seeds for Snapper program underpins why preserving the sustainability of these seagrass meadows is more important than ever.
“Cockburn Sounds seagrass meadows act as a nursery area for important species such as crabs, snapper, squid, whiting and garfish and supports the only known spawning aggregations of pink snapper in the West Coast Bioregion, said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.
“Merely maintaining the status quo is not an option after the huge loss of seagrass habitat in the Sound over the years. It is vital, therefore, that initiatives like this are supported and boosted to help improve the environmental state of Cockburn Sound.
“The Sound’s protected waters on the doorstep of our capital city offer great land and boat-based fishing for fishers of all ages and abilities and fishers can play their part to by helping collect and disperse seagrass seeds and breathe more life into these vital nursery grounds.”
There were more than 350 registered volunteers dedicating their time last year with the Seeds for Snapper program through a variety of roles, including as boat-based netters, qualified scuba and free divers, shore crews and as seagrass seed dispersal units.
The seagrass fruit harvesting and seed dispersal season will take place from November. Collection and dispersal days and times are subject to weather and tides, so if you want to take part in the fifth year of this great program, Recfishwest encourages volunteers to dig deep and register through the link below.
The Seeds for Snapper program is funded by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF) using your licence fees and is made possible by Recfishwest, OzFish, the University of Western Australia, the WA Government’s Recreational Fishing Initiative Fund, Water Corporation and BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.