The Annual ‘Whites Run’ – Time to get Fishing!

There’s a handful of events in society that each year create a state of extreme excitement. For some, it’s Boxing Day sales, the Melbourne Cup or the AFL Grand Final, but for about 55,000 West Aussie fishers, it’s the annual migration of Western Rock Lobster (crays), known locally as the ‘whites run’.

It’s this time in late November and early December that crays begin their annual migration to offshore waters providing excellent fishing in nearshore areas.

In this article, we will provide you with some answers to commonly asked questions as well and help you head in the right direction to catch some of these tasty morsels.

Why are they called ‘white’ crays?
A ‘white’ cray is a colloquial term applied to crays that are freshly moulted and have a soft, pale shell. This is in comparison to pre-moulted crays which have a hard, red shell. The crays are exactly the same but are at different stages of their life cycle.

Where do they ‘run’ to?
Juvenile crays settle along seagrass beds and rocky habitat close to shore. Once they reach sexual maturity at about 4 years, they migrate en masse from this habitat to offshore reef platforms.

When does the ‘run’ 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. Good catches usually continue until about Christmas time. Water temperature is thought to be the biggest influence on when the migration begins. Cooler water temps tend to delay the start of the migration.

How do I go about catching them?

The white’s run is when potters do best. Diving catches tend to be more consistent than potting catches across the summer, 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 cray pot provides both of these needs. Pots should be set on the sand on the western side of natural habitats such as reef or weed. 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. Crays love fresh bait, so don’t let your bait get rotten in the basket, change it every few days at the very least.

Perhaps the most important aspect to remember when dropping pots is to make them heavy. Any movement on the bottom will result in no crays the next morning, so make sure you use plenty of weight.

This season is forecast to be excellent, with numbers of crays inshore at record levels. We expect the whites run to be excellent again and wish all fishers the best of luck chasing a feed for Christmas.

 

Simpler and Clearer Cray Rules for Better Fishing

With the 2017/18 cray season almost upon us, we’re happy to bring you some news that is sure to make your cray fishing experience more enjoyable and safer than ever before. Recfishwest has worked with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development – Fisheries Division (Fisheries) on clarifying and simplifying the cray rules focused on optimising fishing experiences and improving diver safety.  

This clarification will ensure the 55,000 people who hold a recreational cray licence in WA, can continue to access this sustainable public resource in a safe and enjoyable way.

How do the clearer and simpler rules affect my fishing?

We can confirm:

1. Divers will be provided 5 minutes to sort and recheck crays once safely on-board the boat following their dive.

  • This clarity eliminates unnecessary pressure on divers to check and re-check catches while underwater and in the case of free divers, it reduces the risk of shallow water blackout.

2. Crays in setose condition can now be kept.

  • Allowing crays with setose to be kept reduces the amount of time divers need to spend in the water and reduces the chance of fishers making honest mistakes. Crays that are in tarspot and berried condition are easy to identify and these animals are still classified as protected and cannot be kept.

For more information see the 2017/18 Western Rock Lobster guidebook

We are currently developing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) to help divers better understand the rules in certain circumstances. Keep an eye out for these this week.

2017 Cray Crystal Ball

Imagine a world in which you could predict the future. You might place a bet on the winner of a future AFL premiership, or know exactly which day to go fishing next month. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Image: Puerulus Collector Credit: Matt Watson, Image source: scoopdigital.com.au

Unfortunately, we can’t predict AFL premiers using any science, but for one of WA’s most loved fishing targets, the Western Rock Lobster (or ‘crays’), decades of data has shown that science can predict abundances of crays up to four years in advance! And if that’s not exciting enough, the 2017/18 is predicted to be one of the best years in over a decade!

During Spring and Summer, each year cray larvae known as ‘puerulus’ are pushed inshore by wind and currents where they settle on nearshore reefs.

Research shows that these crays take four years to reach the legal length of 76mm. Fisheries researchers assess the abundance of puerulus across the new moon period each month by monitoring purpose built puerulus collectors at four locations along the West Coast and Abrolhos Islands.

A cray puerulus collector (pictured right), what looks like bottlebrushes or a mop is actually artificial seagrass. Late larval phase crays use the collectors for habitat and provide long-term population/breeding stock information for fishers and fisheries managers.

High settlement has always shown a strong correlation with catches of crays three and four years later and the 2013 settlement numbers (Figure 1 below) were some of the highest in recent times; in fact the highest since the early 2000’s.

 

Figure 1 Western Rock Lobster Puerulus Settlement (Juvenile Lobster Count) – Showing the 2017/18 season should be cracker due to a high Juvenile Count back in 2013 Source: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

What Does This All Mean for My Fishing?

Added to this excellent rate of juvenile settlement, is the fact that numbers of adult crays are also at an extremely high level, due mainly to neither the commercial or recreational fishing sectors catching their annual allocation in recent times – meaning more crays are being left in the water each year!

Reports from divers indicate that crays are already stacked up in fantastic numbers in nearshore reef platforms along the coast. These high abundances will make for excellent fishing experiences over this Summer.

If you are thinking of trying for crays for the first time, there has never been a better opportunity. There’s plenty of information available on our other website www.ilovefishing.com.au 

Image source: Bluewater Freedivers of WA

Divers should do well as soon as the season opens, but the potters will have to be patient as the traditional ‘whites’ run won’t kick off until late November. Once it cranks up though, the fishing will be superb, with many boats traditionally reporting catching their boat limit most days during this migration period.

Recent clarification of diving rules will make for a much more enjoyable fishing experience.  To see what’s changed, click here.

Good luck chasing crays this season, we would love to hear how you go and see a few pics and videos, so feel free to email us on recfish@recfishwest.org.au or jump on our Facebook page and join the discussion.

Stay tuned for our November Broad Cast edition where we’ll take a closer look at the ‘Whites Run’ plus give you some handy tips and tricks on the best way to cook your crays plus much more!

Cray Diving Rules Set To Be Clarified

In July’s edition of Recfishwest’s Broadcast newsletter, we stated our firm belief that people diving for crays must be afforded the same opportunity as those who use pots and be given 5 minutes to sort their catch once safely aboard their boat. Recfishwest wrote to the Minister of Fisheries who subsequently requested Fisheries liaise with Recfishwest to ‘review fishing arrangements prior to the season commencement.’

Recfishwest is continuing to work with Fisheries in an effort to provide fishers with a clear set of rules that allows for the practicalities of diving and address our concerns. All fishers deserve rules that are clear, simple and fair.

Recfishwest’s position has not changed:

“While divers should make all attempts to measure and count lobsters as accurately as possible in the water, common sense allowances must be made given the often challenging conditions associated with diving in WA.

Once aboard the safety of the boat it is only fair and reasonable that divers are provided a 5 minute opportunity to make a secondary check for protected lobster (e.g. undersize, tar spot, setose) or lobsters in excess of the bag limit, and return to the water any lobster that may have inadvertently been caught.” Recfishwest CEO Dr. Andrew Rowland. 

Why does it matter?

The current (recently amended) interpretation of rules for divers are unclear and do not support the best possible safety outcomes or provide for the best possible fishing experiences.

It is important fishing rules balance the need for safe, quality fishing experiences with the appropriate level of compliance and education to support long-term sustainability. Given there are zero sustainability concerns in regards to crays the rules need to focus on optimising fishing experiences and diver safety.

The current interpretation of the rules and the lack of clarity around a 5 minute period places unnecessary pressure to check catches underwater and to spend more time in the water than is otherwise necessary. In the case of free divers this increased time underwater greatly increases the risk of shallow water blackout.

It is also important rules are interpreted in a way that reflects community expectations about how publicly owned aquatic resources are accessed and managed. The rules must be clear, simple, fair and they must provide for the long accepted practice of completing the fishing activity once safely aboard the vessel.

If you’d like to listen to what Recfishwest’s CEO Dr Andrew Rowland had to say on ABC South Coast in  July, 2017, press play below.