Blue Swimmer Crab Changes and What it Means For You

Overview

  • More protection for the female crab breeding stock will ensure bigger, better crabs in the near future.
  • Permanent removal of commercial fishing licences in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds and from Mandurah to Bunbury through a voluntary buyback scheme will ensure more protection for the female crab breeding stock and more and bigger crabs to fish for.
  • The buy-back of commercial fishing licences in Cockburn Sound opens the real possibility for recreational crab fishing in the Sound.
  • Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) proposed blanket five-month closure and 11pm to 4am night fishing curfew dropped.

Cockburn Sound

  • The buy-back of commercial fishing licences in Cockburn Sound opens the real possibility for recreational crab fishing in the Sound by next year.
Blue swimmer crabbing is closed from 1 September and 30 November within this area

Swan/Canning River

  • Bag limit of five crabs, boat limit stays the same at 20.
  • Introduction of a seasonal closure –September 1st to November 30th.

Peel/Harvey Estuary

  • Bag limit of 10 crabs and boat limit of 20 stays the same.
  • Seasonal closure extended by a month now running from September 1st to November 30th
  • The closure extension will mean more quality crabs to go at in December once they’ve had a chance to complete their spring moults.

Geographe Bay

  • Bag limit stays the same at 10 crabs but now a maximum of five females, boat limit stays the same and still no seasonal closure.
  • Proposed three-month closure dropped.
  • Introduction of a female crab limit will offer more protection to the female crab breeding stock resulting in more, bigger crabs and better crabbing in the near future.

Click here to read Recfishwest’s Media Release.

Click here to read Recfishwest’s supporting news article.

Fishers Turn up to Voice Concerns Over Outer Harbour

Late last month, Recfishwest attended a workshop hosted by the Wesport Taskforce aimed at identifying risks to recreational fishing should a decision be made to build a port facility in Cockburn Sound.

The workshop was attended by interested fishers who were given an opportunity to raise concerns and identify risks posed by any proposed development.

Plenty of healthy, robust discussion took place as fishers were asked to rate perceived risks around seagrass and marine habitat, recreational fishing and boat access, protecting fish and spawning conditions, as well as general water quality in the Sound.

All of the risks were considered to be high by those attending, who explained the reasons behind their concerns.

Cockburn Sound is already under considerable pressure from a range of man-made causes and those who attended echoed the sentiments of the broader fishing community around the increased impact that an outer harbour development in Cockburn Sound might have.

Recfishwest welcomed the opportunity to put forward the views and concerns of fishers into this dedicated consultation process.

That said, Recfishwest will not support any development that further impacts on Cockburn Sound fishing experiences, this includes a new outer harbour development option.

Although we are actively contributing to positive policy development through this process, we cannot guarantee what the final recommendation of the Westport Taskforce will be. What we can guarantee is that Recfishwest will continue to fight to protect pink snapper and the great fishing available in Cockburn Sound.

Pink Snapper Need Our Help Again!

Minister Dave Kelly has provided his support for our proposal to increase protection for spawning snapper in and around Cockburn Sound.

You can find the details of the closure here.

You can read the story about the issue on WAToday here.

We would like to thank you all for your support of this proposal, without your support, we cant get stuff like this done!

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On Tuesday 9th July, we wrote:

Following last year’s pink snapper spawning season in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, Recfishwest held concerns over the effectiveness of the current rules in providing adequate protection for spawning snapper.

Recfishwest asked the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to provide an update on current research, which was supplied yesterday.

Click here to view the Fisheries research update.

Recreational fishers have a long history of looking after pink snapper in Cockburn Sound. Each year, families release thousands of snapper fingerlings as part of the Snapper Guardians program.

This Fisheries research update indicates that:

  • There are fewer older snapper in the south-west/metro population than there should be;
  • There are a limited number of age classes in the population;
  • Pink snapper in spawning condition begin to gather in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds in August and September; and,
  • Evidence suggests that fishers are actively targeting pre-spawning fish as they make their way to the spawning grounds.

What does all this mean?

Put simply, snapper require more protection, particularly during the spawning period when they are very easy to catch due to their schooling nature and predictable migration pathways.

Given this Fisheries research update, Recfishwest propose the following:

  1. An extension to the current spawning closure period to include September (currently October to January),
  2. An extension to the current closure area to outside of Garden and Carnac Islands (see map below).
Recfishwest’s proposed pink snapper spawning closed area from 1 September to 31 January

We believe these measures will provide adequate protection to spawning fish whilst still letting fishers catch pink snapper on the Five Fathom Bank and along the rock groynes at Fremantle.

These measures will allow fish to spawn undisturbed as well as provide protection along the known migration pathways to snapper spawning grounds.

The Cockburn Sound pink snapper spawning aggregations are the largest and most important on the lower west coast. The breeding success of these fish is critical to maintain the future of snapper across the region.

The right time to do the right thing is right now and we’d like to see these measures introduced immediately.

See what our CEO Dr Andrew Rowland had to say below:

Behind the Scenes: Snapper Guardians Egg Collection

Recfishwest recently joined the team from the Australian Centre for Applied Aquaculture and Research (ACAAR) on their mission to collect fertilised snapper eggs for this summer’s Snapper Guardian’s project.

Recfishwest habitat officer Michael Tropiano joined ACAAR where they successfully collected enough fertilised eggs to once again stock Cockburn Sound with one of WA’s most important recreational fishing species.

Check out the video below to see some of the action as it happened.

Pink Snapper are found throughout the world, however, in the West Coast bioregion of Western Australia, there are a few particularly special locations that we rely on every year to ensure the future of the wild stock for this species. Cockburn and Warnbro sounds are the largest and most important spawning grounds for Pink Snapper in the entire West Coast bioregion and the health of these systems has a close linkage to the ongoing health of the wild stock of this species. 

While all spawning in the same location makes for simple protection of spawning snapper (the closure in the sounds protects spawning snapper from 1 October – 31 January), for these fish, releasing all their eggs in one location does have the potential to be a risky strategy.

For any fish egg to hatch, and survive all the way to adulthood is a struggle against the forces of nature. For Pink Snapper, in particular, it’s the first few months when the eggs are most vulnerable. Whether a Snapper egg hatches and survives these first few perilous months is almost completely dependent upon the environmental conditions. Most years, unfortunately, the environmental conditions aren’t quite right and only a small number of snapper actually hatch and survive. Luckily there are a few times every decade when the perfect conditions line up with spawning time and there is a boom year with a huge number of snapper hatching and surviving.

Image: Bongo nets skimming the surface collecting snapper eggs.

The strategy to spawn all in the one location and the huge natural variations in their spawning success, coupled with the fact that the Pink Snapper stock is still in a recovery phase, means these snapper are literally putting all their eggs in the one basket…

Image: School of spawning Pink Snapper spotted on the sounder.

Given the importance of Pink Snapper to Western Australian fishers and knowing the risks associated with their spawning strategy, there was an investment in 2015 into a trial project to see if it was possible to create a Pink Snapper insurance policy. The idea behind the trial was to test if it was possible to collect a very small number of eggs from the wild (the amount spawned by only two or three snapper) and grow them large enough to potentially release, plus test the genetics to ensure they would reflect that of the natural population.

If this trial was successful (as it was), then it would provide an insurance policy in case something happened or the conditions turned out to be unfavourable for their survival in the sound year after year. The idea was that once these insurance snapper were to reach a size where they were no longer dependent on favourable environmental conditions to survive, they could then be released back into the wild to support the natural recovery of this species.  As with all insurance policies, you hope you never have to use them, however in 2015 there was a large fish kill in Cockburn Sound and the insurance policy was called upon in its first year.

The trial project proved to be a success and is now known as Snapper Guardians and has been running for three years. Over the last few weeks, the staff from ACAAR have been out working into the late hours of the night to try and to collect just enough eggs to create this year’s supply of insurance snapper. The good news is, it looks like they have been able to collect enough eggs to again begin running Snapper Guardians. The latest news is that snapper eggs have just hatched and are being carefully reared at their hatchery in Fremantle.

The plan this year is to again release the snapper back into the wild once they are big enough to survive on their own. Stay tuned for more details on how you can lend a hand in the community release day early next year.

Read WA Today’s coverage of our story, here.

Fact file
• The Snapper Guardians program has already released 100,000 baby Pink Snapper back into the wild.
• The original trial project was funded through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives fund and was run by ACAAR with support from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and Recfishwest.
• In 2016 the WA State Government committed funds to continue the program running for two years.

Fisheries Fact Sheet: Pink Snapper Government of Western Australia, Department of Fisheries. 2011.

Reference
Fisheries Fact Sheet: Pink Snapper. Government of Western Australia, Department of Fisheries. 2011.Sourced:http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Documents/recreational_fishing/fact_sheets/fact_sheet_pink_snapper.pdf