No need to pray for a cray, just drop your pot in the right spot

Western rock lobster are very sought-after!

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.

About 80 per cent of WA’s rec crayfish catches are in pots!

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.

You can read more about the puerulus settlement index here!

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.

Averaging 5km a day these offshore crays sure do move around!

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.

After crayfish hatch, they live offshore as planktonic Phyllosoma later growing to the Puerulus stage that settles in inshore waters.

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.

You can check them out here.

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.

Catch these and even more tips here!

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.

Click here to view DPIRD’s guide to rock lobster fishing!

The huge turnout at the Cockburn Powerboats Club’s cray fishing night!

Charter boat crayfishing changes promoting WA cray tourism

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”

Reference Groups Worth Their Weight in Crays

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.

You can read more about the Rock Lobster Reference Group members here.

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.

Crayfish industry growth plan must protect inshore reefs

Fast facts:

  • WA has the best recreational crayfish fishery in the world and Recfishwest will fight to protect it;
  • Concerns over impact on recreational lobster catch and participation;
  • Nearshore crayfish abundance is critical to supporting quality fishing;
  • Recfishwest will never support any proposals that adversely impact on our fishing experiences.

Recfishwest believes that all WA fish stocks must be managed to provide optimal benefits to the WA community.

Recfishwest’s Aaron Moses is passionate about chasing crayfish off Perth.

In December, Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly announced a plan to grow the rock lobster industry by increasing the quota available to the commercial sector by 1700 tonnes.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said Recfishwest had significant concerns about the plan which is currently open for consultation.

“Recfishwest will never support anything that adversely impacts on recreational fishing experiences,” Dr Rowland said.

He said high numbers of crayfish close to shore in the last few years thanks to conservative management has significantly increased the catchability for recreational fishers, which has led to record high participation rates.

“In recent years fishing experiences for recreational fishers had been boosted and participation has grown to almost 60,000 licence holders thanks to high abundances of crayfish on inshore reefs,” Dr Rowland said.

“We are keen to understand how these inshore reef areas will be protected under any proposal to grow the Western Rock Lobster Industry.

“The last thing we want to see is increased exploitation of these reefs by ramping up commercial catch by 1700t. That’s over three times the annual recreational catch.

“There is much more to fisheries management than simply the sustainable exploitation of a resource for economic gain, it’s also about managing the stock to ensure high abundance in the right areas.

“We are seeking more details on the Plan to ensure any management changes do not impact on potters and divers who enjoy catching crayfish along our coast.

“We look forward to further engagement with the Government that results in a plan that recognises the benefits of all stakeholders in this fishery.”

Read Recfishwest’s submission below.

Find Recfishwest’s submission to the McGowan Government’s Rock Lobster Industry Growth Plan here

Click here to read the State Government’s Rock Lobster Industry Growth Plan

Listen to Dr Andrew Rowland’s discussion on the issue on 6PR radio below

Jane Marwick from Geraldton’s 6PR radio breaks it down even further during a discussion with Recfishwest’s Dr Andrew Rowland and City of Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn.

Unlocking Rock Lobster Value

The Minister for Fisheries recently announced that new plans are in the pipeline for the management of the state’s Western Rock Lobster Fishery aimed at returning more benefits to the WA community.  Many recreational  fishers have asked what this will mean for their fishing experience.

While the details are yet to be determined, the Minister has stated the plans will explore growing the value of rock lobster and improving the future economic contribution of this resource.

While the Ministers media release stated “These discussions will not impact upon arrangements for recreational lobster fishing” Recfishwest need to be a part of these discussions to ensure any plans to unlock additional value from this fishery do not adversely impact on recreational fishing experiences.

Value from a fishery comes in many forms, but the well understood values include economic, social and cultural values.

For the recreational sector, cray fishing in WA has never been better. Cray stocks are growing and more recreational fishers are participating than ever before with over 55,000 Western Australians holding a license to catch crays last year.  It is huge part of our WA lifestyle with thousands of families sharing the experiences of catching and enjoying this amazing seafood each year.

Regardless of how well the fishery is currently being managed things can always be done better and Recfishwest welcomes the Ministers announcement  to return more benefits to the WA community from our crayfish.

Recfishwest look forward to being a part of the Ministers discussions.  We will be working to ensure:

  • The current high-quality fishing experiences remain
  • The value to WA from recreational cray fishing is well understood
  • Social and cultural value is considered alongside economic value
  • The views of the 55,000 community members who enjoy this public resource are factored into any future decisions

Recfishwest and the recreational fishing community in WA care deeply about our precious rock lobster stocks.

Stay tuned, we will keep you up to date with any news in this space.

You can read the Ministers media release here: