Cockburn Sound pink snapper and blue swimmer crab changes now in effect

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.

To catch up on the latest pink snapper management changes click here.

To find out the about the blue swimmer crab management changes click here.

You can find a break-down on what these crab changes mean for your crabbing area here.

South West Blue Swimmer Crab Research and Management Timeline

On the back of recent changes to the management of Blue Swimmer Crabs in south-west WA, Recfishwest have received queries around research and management information relating to this important recreational species. We have compiled the following information from fisheries research reports, management papers and other sources of information. This information will be updated as we continue to research and serves only as a guide, rather than a comprehensive compilation.

South West Blue Swimmer Crab Research and Management Timeline

We hope fishers find this information useful.

Blue Swimmer Crab Changes and What They Mean For You

Overview

The new management changes for blue swimmer crabs in Perth and the South West will result in 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 buy-back scheme will ensure more protection for the female crab breeding stock and more crabs 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.
  • Introduction of a three-month seasonal closure – September 1 to November 30 – in all waters from the Swan and Canning Rivers (inclusive) to 15km south of Bunbury.

See our map below to show you what the changes mean for you in your favourite crabbing locations.

A Step Towards Bigger, Better Crabs in Perth and the 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.

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT THE NEW CHANGES TO THE RULES WILL MEAN FOR YOU

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.

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT THE MINISTER HAD TO SAY

CLICK HERE TO READ RECFISHWEST’S MEDIA RELEASE

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:

The sustainability of the crabs must come first.
  • 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

How good is this? Isn’t this worth protecting?

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.

CLICK HERE TO SEE OUR RECOMMENDATIONS FOLLOWING YOUR RESPONSES TO OUR SURVEY

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.

Crab Stocking Trial Project a WA First!

It is hard to find a better way to spend your summer afternoons than wading the estuary flats with a crab scoop in hand. In fact, crabbing for Blue Swimmer Crabs (Portunus armatus) is one of the most popular fishing activities in Western Australia.

Stocking of many of WA’s favourite finfish has occurred across the state with Pink Snapper, Black Bream, Barramundi and Mulloway all being stocked, yet there has been no stocking of crabs. Given their popularity and the importance of crabbing to WA culture, investigating possible stocking options for Blue Swimmer Crabs was identified as a way to enhance crabbing and crab stocks in WA.

Recently the Australian Centre for Applied Aquaculture Research (ACAAR) at South Metropolitan TAFE received a grant from the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund (RFIF) to identify future restocking options for Blue Swimmer Crabs. Since the culturing of Blue Swimmer Crabs from berried broodstock had never been done in WA, this project would first investigate if this process was feasible, and if successful, result in the first stocking of crabs in WA.

What happened?

Collecting the broodstock
• With assistance from Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Division of Fisheries, a handful of wild berried broodstock were collected from the Peel Harvey Estuary and transported to ACAAR’s facility in Fremantle
• The berried females arrived full of eggs at an early stage of development when the eggs are still yellow (Figure 1). Conditions and temperature in the tank were then altered to assist the crabs developing their eggs to a later stage where the eggs turn a darker colour and are ready for spawning (Figure 2).

From hatching to release
• Once the eggs hatch, the earliest stages of a crab’s life cycle begins to be visible when viewed through a microscope. This first stage (below) of a crab’s journey is called a Zoea and resembles something more closely out of an Alien movie than of a crab. At this stage, the Zoea have limited ability to move to avoid predators and find food and are at the mercy of their environment. Hatchery conditions and food availability must be carefully managed during this vulnerable stage.

• Day by day the Zoea continue to grow and develop and after 12 days they make their next big transformation as part of their life cycle, metamorphosing into a Megalopa. At this stage they are starting to look much more similar to their parents having grown biting claws and gained the ability swim freely.

• After 19 days from hatching, the project reached an important milestone with the Megalopa undergoing their final metamorphose into a Crablet. This is a dangerous stage in the development of the crabs as the crablets quickly become highly cannibalistic and aggressive, apparently maximising the use of their newly grown claws.

• From the broodstock crabs that contributed to the spawning, the final stage of the projects saw the release of 3700 crablets into the Peel Harvey Estuary.

The success of this WA first project has opened the door to future potential restocking programs for crabs that could play a role in continuing to create great fishing experiences for the WA community forever. A second project, also funded through licence fees aims to release up to 100,000 crabs into Metropolitan waters and start to design a larger scale stocking program for WA.

This project was funded through the RFIF and supported by DPIRD, Division of Fisheries and Recfishwest.