This year’s whites run has been forecast to happen in late November according to one of WA’s leading rock lobster scientists.
However, the eager anticipation over this summer’s cray season is being overshadowed by community concerns that the proposed extension to Marmion Marine Park could see thousands locked out of some of the best prime cray fishing ground close to north Metro boat ramps.
According to DPIRD Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon de Lestang, this year’s whites run is expected to kick off around late November to early December.
This is welcome news for metro cray fishers who make up a large part of the State’s 53,000 recreational rock lobster fishing licence-holders.
Once the whites run gets under way, generally moving in a north-westerly direction, traffic at Metro boat ramps begins to fire up as many boat fishers enjoy heading out “at sparrows” to pull pots and grab a feed of crays often before work.
To help predict the upcoming run of the crayfish along the WA coast, DPIRD collect the puerulus – a juvenile stage of a cray – with specialised buoys mimicking natural algae habitat where juvenile crayfish will seek shelter.
Based on the analysis of previous puerulus numbers, we are expecting a similar season to last year, with a good steady flow of catches and sizes.
However, taking the edge of this year’s excitement around the upcoming whites run are growing community concerns that extensive no-fishing sanctuary zones in soon-to-be released Marmion Marine Park extension proposals that could cover extensive prime cray fishing ground on or inside the Three-Mile reef.
The proposed extension to Marmion Marine Park will see its boundaries extend from Trigg to north of Two Rocks and go out from the shore to large sections of the Three-Mile Reef (see map below) – with proposed sanctuary zones potentially impacting on large areas out from Hillarys, Ocean Reef, Mindarie and Two Rocks boat ramps.
“Shooting out the harbour to grab a feed of crays before work during the whites run is one of the things that makes living in Perth so good,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland, “So we understand community concerns around sanctuary zones potentially heavily restricting fishing for crays out of north Metro boat ramps.
“That’s why we encourage all fishers to join our cast of thousands as a Recfishwest member to ensure our collective voice gets heard loud and clear when the marine park proposals are released for public comment potentially in the coming weeks.”
Redclaw might look and taste similar to their delicious southern freshwater cousins, but unlike marron they are not native to Western Australia and are classified as a pest species.
Not only are they invasive, but they are also exceptionally adaptable to tough environments with the ability to survive out of the water for up to 48 hours. It means they can move freely and modify river environments including physical habitats, food-web structures and water quality, while displacing native species through predation and competition.
It is why Recfishwest is targeting increased recreational fishing opportunities for redclaw to manage and monitor the spread of this crayfish, providing recfishers with better education on the species and improved measures on catching them, so they can do their part to help the environment with the added incentive of taking home a delicious feed!
“Recfishwest believes a more coordinated approach is needed in WA to help stem the distribution and impact of redclaw. The two key components of a new approach are better community education and allowing more fishers to target redclaw while reducing the chances of by-catch of other native species,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.
“We are making the case to DPIRD to legalise effective, wildlife-friendly fishing gear for redclaw for more northern regions of WA which which avoids the entrapment of fish, turtles or other native animals throughout the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions.”
“This would be a win-win scenario as recreational fishers can target a delicious species while directly reducing the ecological impacts of redclaw through these northern freshwater ecosystems.”
Recfishwest will continue to keep the recreational fishing community updated of any changes in regulations for redclaw crayfish fishing throughout our Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley regions. If you catch redclaw, send pictures to DPIRD and make note of when and where you caught it, including GPS coordinates if possible.
Please dispatch all the redclaw you catch and do not return any to the water or move them around to other locations. If you catch redclaw, the FishWatch number to report them is 1800 815 507, or people can email email@example.com.
Growing up to 25 centimetres in length with a mottled blue-green colouration, they are tolerant of a wide variety of habitats, from fast flowing rivers to still billabongs. The females are also able to spawn up to 1,000 eggs multiple times per year, meaning the population can multiply rapidly and become self-sustaining.
They eat a wide variety of prey including small aquatic invertebrates, molluscs and aquatic plants. This diverse diet means native north-western aquatic animals such as fish and turtles are competing with redclaw for food.
As a result, it is recommended redclaw crayfish are not to be released if caught.
They are widely considered a freshwater delicacy with the texture and flavour of their flesh compared favourably with other marine crustaceans, with their sweet-flavoured meat containing low levels of fat, cholesterol, and salt.
Over the past two decades, redclaw crayfish have rapidly spread west from their natural habitat of north-east Queensland and the Northern Territory. They are now distributed throughout a number of sites in the Pilbara region, including the Karijini and Millstream National Parks, the Fortescue River, Newman and Lake Kununurra. They have also been detected in the Harding Dam near Karratha.
Just like the final season of Game of Thrones, the march of the ‘whites’ is approaching.
Unlike the final season of the universally acclaimed show though, we know this upcoming season of the crays run will have a greater reception!
The march of Western rock lobster — more commonly referred to as ‘crays’ — is set to get underway slightly earlier than last year in early to mid-November, according to one of WA’s leading cray experts, DPIRD Principal Research Scientist Dr Simon de Lestang.
It is welcome news for a growing number of more than 56,000 licensed cray fishers, who target this unique West Aussie species that are distributed from around Augusta up to Onslow and feature most prominently between Perth and Geraldton.
Dr de Lestang said the sustained abundance of crayfish and slightly warmer waters than last year is set to fire up the nearshore fishing activity, as the crays begin their annual migration to deeper waters.
“The water temperatures in August and September impact the moulting and start of the whites migration each year. In 2022, the average water temperature during these months was 17.6oC, which was warmer than 2021 when it was 17.1oC, so we can expect the whites to start a bit earlier than last year,” said Dr de Lestang.
The crayfish crystal ball
Ever wondered how the experts predict the upcoming crayfish run?
DPIRD collect the puerulus — a juvenile stage of a cray — with specialised buoys mimicking natural algae habitat where juvenile crayfish prefer to settle to forecast crayfish abundance each season.
This method allows DPIRD researchers to determine the number of puerulus that have concentrated on these buoys for each new moon period. From these numbers, they can then forecast upcoming recruitment trends and patterns.
The settlement information has a strong correlation with crayfish catches in about four years once the crays have matured to a legal size, so the puerulus numbers from 2018-19 are analysed to allow DPIRD to make an accurate seasonal forecast for 2022-23.
“Based on the puerulus numbers in 2018/2019 we are expecting a similar year to last, so still good solid numbers. A lot of the catches, especially the whites, will be a bit larger than last year as they will not be dominated by a large recruitment,” said Dr de Lestang.
The flight of the whites
The start of the whites run varies each year, although based on previous recordings, the whites usually begin their quest heading in a north-westerly direction around late November and early December.
The reason it is dubbed the ‘whites run’ comes from the colloquial description of crayfish which have freshly moulted with their new soft, pale-coloured shell. Pre-moulted crays are easy to identify as they have a harder, dark red shell.
Juvenile crays settle along inshore rocky habitats and seagrass beds. Once they reach sexual maturity — at about three to four years — they start their migration heading offshore.
During the migration, crays set off towards deeper reef platforms in a north-westerly direction. This annual phenomenon is what has been dubbed by crayfish enthusiasts as the ‘whites run.’
Get your cray pots and loops ready!
Once the crays are anticipated to start their march in around two weeks, potters and divers will venture to the ocean on the surface and below it with a buzz of excitement, hoping to catch a feed of these tasty critters.
One of the benefits to the whites run is this red-hot action takes place relatively close to shore, with shallow reef ledges visible from our beautiful beaches frequently abundant with crays.
“The whites run is an integral and much-loved part of WA’s fishing calendar. Once the word is out that they are being caught nearshore, a lot of keen crayfishers will queue up before sunrise at boat ramps or throw on the wetty and dive the reefs,” said Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett.
“The nearshore crayfish abundance during the whites run is what underpins this awesome West Aussie fishing experience, it’s entirely unique and special to WA to pull in a pot full of crays or to dive under a rock ledge off our coastline and see dozens of antennules poking out.”
Tips for finding crays for days
For Perth-based fishers who are going for crays this summer, Dr de Lestang suggested good places to start targeting the shallow reef systems off our coastline are areas such as Two Rocks, Mindarie, Rockingham, Garden Island, Rottnest and Mandurah.
The nearshore activity during the annual whites run over summer is why more than half of WA’s recreational cray catch takes place between December and February, which is a testament to great fisheries management helping maintain their sustainability and abundance.
If potting, use a mixture of bait. Soft and oily bait will get the lobster into the pot, while longer lasting tougher bait will keep them there. Ensuring the pot is heavy also improves your odds as crays will be reluctant to get inside if it moves. Wood pots will start to fish better once they have been able to ‘soak’ for a day or two.
If diving, the start of the whites run can be the most effective time to duck beneath the surface and use quick hands or cray loops for specimens that are holed up in shallow reefs closer to shore or around islands such as Rottnest, Garden and Carnac.
Areas both north and south of Perth have already seen solid numbers of crays being caught over the past fortnight, with boats launching off Mandurah in particular coming home with brimming pots.
Big thanks to Dr Simon de Lestang and DPIRD for their crayfishing tips!
Not many things excite fishers like the annual rock lobster ‘whites run’.
It’s a time when metro cray fishing fires up to an outstanding level and dropping pots truly comes into its own!
Pulling in a heavy pot loaded with a feed of crays is the ultimate goal for many cray fishers and the whites run is your best opportunity to experience this.
The annual whites run is the main reason 80 per cent of all recreationally crays are caught using pots.
The whites run often occurs around late November and early December each year.
As the crays begin their annual migration to offshore waters, they provide unmatched fishing opportunities for potters.
The proximity to shore means people can head out early bag themselves some crays and be back in time for work.
The summer months are where more than half of the total recreational crays are caught!
In this article, we will provide you with a forecast ahead of the season from the puerulus settlement index the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) collects, provide answers to commonly asked questions and point you in the right direction to catching some of these super-tasty crustaceans in time for Christmas.
What is the 2019/20 season forecast looking like and what is the puerulus settlement index?
It appears a great season is ahead of us, the puerulus settlement for the 2015 and 2016 season is well above average.
Now what’s this puerulus settlement have to do with the cray season four years on?
Well, DPIRD developed a method to collect the puerulus which is a juvenile stage of a cray by using a specialised buoy that mimics natural algae habitat on which the juvenile crayfish like to settle.
DPIRD scientists work out the concentration for each new moon period of these settled puerulus and can then work out trends and patterns in recruitment.
This settlement information has a strong correlation with catches of crays in three to four years, once the crays have matured to a legal size.
Why are they called ‘whites’ and where are they ‘running’ to?
Good questions! A ‘white’ cray is a colloquial term applied to crays that are freshly moulted with their new soft, pale shell showing.
This is in comparison to pre-moulted crays which have a hard, dark red shell.
Juvenile crays settle along seagrass beds and rocky habitat close to shore.
Once they reach sexual maturity at about three to four years, they migrate en masse from this inshore habitat to the deeper offshore reef platforms in a north-westerly direction.
DPIRD research shows that crays can walk up to 5km a day with crays tagged at Rottnest showing up recaptured later at the Abrolhos!
That would definitely have the researchers double-checking the tag numbers!
Check out the fascinating migration maps provided by DPIRD Offshore Crustacean Principal Research Scientist Simon de Lestang showing huge distances the tagged cray cover.
OK, so it’s forecast to be a great season but the six million dollar question: when will the run actually happen?
Whilst there are multiple factors that influence exactly when the migration begins, it is generally understood that the migration will start towards the end of November and will reach full swing by the beginning of December.
The run is believed to be triggered by warming water temperatures and good catches usually continue until about Christmas time. Cooler water temps tend to delay the start of the migration.
Though this year, unlike the last, the warm water seems to have come early and crays were moulting as early as the first week of November.
How do I go about catching them?
The whites run is when potters do best.
Divers tend to be more consistent than those dropping pots across the year, but the period from late November to Christmas is when dropping pots come into its own. As crays are on the move from under their usual nearshore reef ledges, they will seek food and shelter along their migration path.
A well-set cray pot provides both of these needs. Keep dropping pots further out to sea as the migration continues, and check your pots every day during this period.
Crays can travel many kilometres a day so don’t be afraid to spread your pots out to get an idea of where good numbers of crays are each day.
Even though potters do best during the whites run there are also still plenty of divers in the water at this time so common sense needs to be used, keep a lookout for dive flags and don’t throw your old bait in the water if divers are nearby. There are plenty of crays for everyone to enjoy during the whites run.
What is a well-set pot?
Cray pots that are well-weighted are much harder to pull up but sit steadily on the seafloor while the swell and surge rolls back and forth. Heavy pots are also much more likely to stay put during a storm so they don’t end up tangled in the reef where they can become stuck and even detached from their ropes when the ropes rub against the reef overnight and fray.
Crays are much more likely to enter if the pot is still, any movement will mean no crays in the morning.
Pots should be set on the sand on the western side of natural habitats such as reef or weed, this way, as they migrate to the north-west, they will walk off the reef, onto the sand and find your pot sitting there ready for them.
Make sure the baits are fresh, so don’t let your bait get rotten in the basket, change it every few days at the very least.
Use something oily to get the best results, blue mackerel and orange roughy heads or the new burley bricks that are a great plastic-free alternative that are packed in cardboard ready to go in your bait basket.
A few more tips include clipping the tail of your crays as soon as possible, marking your floats clearly with your gear ID and it’s also worth marking your pots too.
You should also soak your pots before you deploy them as they’re known to bubble for at least 24 hours as the dry wood soaks up the saltwater, something that crays hate and you are unlikely to catch while they’re bubbling.
Thanks to Simon de Lestang from DPIRD for presenting this great information at the cray fishing night that was held at the Cockburn Power Boats Club.
There was a great turn-out from club members and non-members, with a huge amount of information shared over the course of the night.
Keep an eye out for club nights like these, they’re a great opportunity to meet like-minded fishers and advance your fishing knowledge. We expect this whites run, and the next, to be excellent and wish all fishers the best of luck chasing a feed of delicious WA crays for Christmas.
It’s coming up to that time of year, when many fishers will be dusting off their cray pots and loops in readiness for the annual ‘whites run’, a time when hauls of tasty crays (WA rock lobster) are pulled freshly from the inshore reefs, not far from the local boat ramp. Continue reading “Get geared up and ready for the whites’ run”→
In good news for recreational fishers, especially those who don’t have the means to catch a feed of crays – such as non-boat owners, young children, families, the elderly or people with disabilities – there is now a new option to jump on a charter boat and experience catching a WA icon that thousands of other recfishers get to experience. Continue reading “Charter boat crayfishing changes promoting WA cray tourism”→
At the very core of Recfishwest’s business is talking to our community and providing well considered advice to decision makers on a range of issues that affect recreational fishing. We believe good public policy comes from engaging a wide range of people, and we do this in a number of ways depending on the issue. Sometimes it’s through face to face engagement, other times through online polls and surveys or visiting regional communities during their major fishing events.
In the case of cray fishing, in which participation rates are currently about 55,000, we have a dedicated reference group composed of passionate and devoted fishers who are interested in contributing to the management of cray fishing in WA.
The Rock Lobster Reference Group met recently to discuss matters including:
Reviewing the recreational catch and allocation
Opportunities for charter fishing to increase local availability of crayfish
Possession of cray tails outside of the permanent place of residence
The need to tail clip tropical crayfish
Recreational catch estimate methodology
Rock lobster harvest strategy review
The group’s advice on these matters is considered by the Recfishwest Board and used to guide our organisations views.
Positions on all of Recfishwest’s Reference Groups are voluntary, and these members should be recognised and congratulated for giving their time to make your fishing experience better.
”I would like to take this opportunity to provide my personal thanks and understanding that much of what makes my own cray fishing experience so great was borne out of this group,” says Recfishwest CEO, Dr Andrew Rowland.
”In particular I would like to thank the groups outgoing Chairman, Recfishwest life member Norm Halse whose expertise in crayfishing and natural resource management has been vital to the success of this group.”
Top banner image: Rock Lobster Reference Group members left to right; Brian Snook, Ross George, Norm Halse (Chair), Brody Laroux, John Baas, Rob Hoefhamer and Recfishwest Operations Manager Leyland Campbell.