The West Coast demersal fishing closure begins on 15 October and ends on 15 December to give high-value species like dhuies, pinkies and baldies a break from fishing pressure to help with their ongoing recovery.
But just because you can’t target demersals in the West Coast, doesn’t mean you have to stop fishing for one minute – there are are a plethora of alternative fishing opportunities available while the closure is in effect. Some of these include; crayfish, southern bluefin tuna, squid, freshwater fishing, Samson fish, whiting, estuarine and beach species like flathead, tailor and mulloway. So whether you’re looking for your drag to sing, targeting a new species you’ve never caught before or chase a tasty feed, there’s something out there for you.
Here’s a couple of articles that should give you a few ideas and tips for having a crack at something different this spring/early summer.
While we await the Department of Regional Development and Primary Industry’s latest stock assessment for West Coast demersal scale fish, it’s important anglers continue to stick to the closure by not fishing for demersals to assist with their ongoing recovery.
This includes not targeting demersals for catch and release purposes as the survival rate for many of these species following their release is not great for a number of reasons including barotrauma, hooking injuries and being knocked off by sharks – all of which impacts on the stocks’ health.
There’s plenty of misconception in the fishing community around the management of our favourite demersal species in the West Coast bioregion. The demersal fishing ban begins on the 15th October and ends on the 15th December so we thought it is worth answering some of the commonly asked questions around the current status of these highly sought-after species.
How does the demersal closure protect spawning fish when many of them don’t spawn during this time?
It’s a common misconception that the demersal closure was implemented to protect demersal fish whilst they are spawning. This is not true. In fact, this closure was implemented to reduce the overall catch of demersal fish by reducing fishing effort during this period. This period represented an adequate balance between achieving biological outcomes whilst having only limited social impact.
Species such as Pink Snapper do spawn during this time; however, they are subject to additional spawning closures in Cockburn and Warnbro sounds.
Dhufish are known to spawn at different times of year in different locations, so a spawning closure for Dhufish is not an effective tool for managing the take of this species.
While some believe the impact on fishers is high, it has been acknowledged that the demersal closure is playing its part in managing the catch of these important demersal species.
Recfishwest advocated raising the Dhufish boat limit last year. Why didn’t you advocate removing the demersal ban instead?
In a nutshell, there was room to catch more Dhufish, but not more Pink Snapper, so the Dhufish boat limit was the most obvious management arrangement to alter in order to provide increased amenity to fishers without impacting on the sustainability of any other species.
Research indicated that the catch of Dhufish was below the target (50% of what people were catching in 2005/06) set by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and Recfishwest believed that there was scope to increase the Dhufish boat limit to take pressure off Pink Snapper and Baldchin Groper. Unfortunately, catches of Pink Snapper were right on the 50% target, so any change to the demersal ban as a whole would have had an adverse effect on snapper catches.
Recfishwest is currently awaiting the next stock assessment for west coast demersal species, which will inform any management changes for these species going forward.
I’m catching lots of small Dhufish and Pink Snapper, does this mean we will see a relaxation of rules in the near future?
High abundances of juvenile fish is always a great sign. In the case of Pink Snapper and Dhufish, who live over 40 years old, any recovery of the fishery and therefore relaxation of rules must be underpinned by proper research. Given the slow growth of these fish, it’s important that we see multiple years of good juvenile recruitment before any decision is made on management changes. Right now, it’s important the recreational sector maintain their catches at current levels.
I see people catching and releasing Dhufish, is this recommended practice?
No. Dhufish, as well as other demersal fish, suffer from barotrauma (pictured below). This is caused by the expansion of gasses inside the fish’s organs as it ascends through the water column during capture. You will see the signs of barotrauma such as organs protruding from the fish’s mouth, or the fish’s eyes appearing like they are ‘on stalks’.
Barotrauma significantly reduces the fish’s chance of survival once released, and although methods such as proper handling and the use of a release weight increases the survival rate, the best practice is to keep the Dhufish you intend to take home then fish for other species or move to new ground. Continually fishing the same ground and releasing Dhufish after Dhufish is not recommended practice.
We all love the opening of the West Coast demersal season because it offers plenty of great fishing opportunities for the community. Looking after our fish stocks is our number one priority, and everyone needs to play their role. With good reports of juvenile fish around and people understanding the importance of seasonal closures, there’s no reason why our demersal stocks can’t be great again in the coming years.
Following any shark attack, there is inevitably an ill-informed call for the reintroduction of commercial gillnets between Lancelin and Mandurah under the guise of improving public safety.
Premier McGowan was recently quoted as saying the reintroduction of gillnets to the metropolitan area ‘wouldn’t make any difference’ to great white shark numbers and therefore public safety, and he is absolutely correct.
In 2007, an important decision was made by the Labor Government to remove gillnet fishing from Lancelin to Mandurah. This decision was based on sustainability and resource sharing concerns for Pink Snapper and Dhufish. This decision is still widely regarded by the recreational fishing community as the single most important and positive decision for recreational fishing by any Fisheries Minister.
The benefits of this decision are only now starting to be seen with Dhufish and Pink snapper stocks showing signs of recovery.
Every time there is a call for the reintroduction of the metropolitan shark fishery Recfishwest is inundated with calls from concerned fishers who are worried the great fishery they have worked so hard to rebuild is about to be impacted again by gillnets.
Recfishwest cares deeply about public safety and supports the Government in taking practical steps to improve safety measures related to sharks in WA however in absence of evidence linking gillnet fishing to improved safety, Recfishwest will strongly oppose any attempt to re-introduce gillnet fishing to metropolitan waters.
Recfishwest actively promotes boating and water safety initiatives as we believe all West Aussies should return home safe at the end of a day’s fishing. WA’s 140,000 recreational boat fishing licence holders have a role to play as eyes on the water especially in the early reporting of shark sightings to Water Police on 9442 8600.
• There is zero evidence to suggest gillnet fishing will lead to improved safety outcomes for the community.
• The majority of shark fatalities in W.A. have occurred in areas where gillnet fishing still occurs.
• Waters Lancelin to Mandurah was closed to gillnetting in 2007 to protect Dhufish and Pink Snapper stocks and a $5 million dollar compensation package was made available to commercial fishers at the time by the state government.
• Shark fishing with gillnets outside metro waters uses a small mesh net and lands almost 1000 tonnes of small sharks annually. The mesh used is far too small to effectively catch large sharks.
• Any reintroduction of gillnets to Perth waters will jeopardise the recovery of Pink Snapper and Dhufish stocks and is unlikely to capture a single “problem” shark.
The iconic Dhufish remains a favourite species for West Aussie fishers, as tens of thousands of us hit the water each summer in an attempt to snare one of these magnificent fish. Despite their popularity, concerns have been raised for the sustainability of Dhufish stocks and strict regulations on bag and boat limits have been in place alongside the annual demersal closure to protect recovering stocks.
In the September issue Recfishwest’s Broad Cast, we brought you an update on Recfishwest’s request, on the back of multiple requests from the community, for a review of the boat limit on Dhufish which currently sits at two.
Given the slow growth of this iconic fish, this is not a decision we took lightly, but was prompted after recent anecdotal reports from fishers indicating that the resource was recovering well, including a high abundance of juvenile fish not seen for many years. Current recreational catches are well below the sustainability target level set for an adequate recovery, in fact recreational take had reduced by 62% since 2009 when management was introduced to reduce the catch by half.
We were pleased to report in September that the Department of Fisheries had agreed to review our request once the most recent stock assessment information was available. Unfortunately the full stock assessment for Dhufish has been delayed, and is now expected to be available in mid-2017, however a preliminary assessment of WA Dhufish was undertaken to assist in evaluating potential changes to the boat limit.
In late November, preliminary information from the stock assessment was available and although Recfishwest’s calculations indicated the recreational take will remain below the sustainability target with an increased boat limit to three Dhufish, the assessment indicated that the stock may be recovering more slowly than expected in the northern and metropolitan areas of the West Coast Bioregion.
The Department of Fisheries made the decision that the rate of recovery was not sufficient enough to allow an increase in the boat limit at this time. This news will be disappointing to some fishers, however, in the face of current uncertainties, Recfishwest does not support a change to rules that may put the recovery of this iconic species at risk. It is important to understand that Recfishwest will only support management changes when there is clear evidence of sufficient Dhufish stock recovery, and with confidence that any changes will not compromise future sustainability.
Additional analysis of the status of WA Dhufish will be completed as part of the full assessment of West Coast demersal scalefish due to be delivered in mid- 2017. This full assessment will include more complex stock assessment analysis than what was possible at the time of the preliminary assessment and will further inform any potential management changes.
The full assessment will also include the results of the third iSurvey due for release later this year and a more detailed examination of the potential impacts of any management changes. Recfishwest’s request will be revisited when the full assessment is available.
The iconic Dhufish story has many twists and turns, particularly in the last decade, but we have come too far to increase the risk to these fish in any way. The stock assessment indicates that current fishing levels are allowing the stock to recover.Ongoing anecdotal reports of high abundances of juvenile fish, particularly in the metro area, are encouraging. The long term forecast indicates sunny skies for Dhuies.
There’s no more iconic fish in West Australia than a Dhufish. This fishing favourite has long been a part of West Australian culture as far back as can be remembered and in 2009 when sustainability concerns were first raised, WA fishos graciously accepted the introduction of a Dhufish boat limit, reduced bag limit and a two month closure in the West Coast Bioregion as part of efforts to reduce catches by 5o%.
At the time it was unknown if these management changes would be enough to reduce catches by 50% which was the amount deemed necessary by researchers in order to adequately protect Dhufish stocks and allow this favourite fish to recover. Since the boat limit and other management changes were introduced, catches of Dhuies have remained stable and have exceeded the sustainability target by reducing our catch by 62%. This indicates the initial 2009 management arrangements may have been set a little too high. On that basis and combined with the overwhelming community view that the boat limit of two Dhufish is inequitable for those fishing in larger groups, Recfishwest believes there is scope to increase the Dhufish boat limit in line with Dhufish recovery and the sustainability targets that have been set by Department of Fisheries researchers.
It took a few years, but in 2013 the Dhufish stocks were showing the first signs of recovery and fishers were seeing lots of smaller Dhufish indicating increased recruitment in the fishery. Fishers are pleased to see tangible results from their efforts to reduce catches. Many fishers have actively promoted the positive effects on fish stocks these management changes have had, demonstrating the high level of stewardship for this resource.
A stock assessment in 2013 confirmed some recovery of Dhufish stocks and following this report Recfishwest requested the Department of Fisheries investigate what effect increasing the boat limit would have on Dhufish stocks and target catch levels. The Department decided not to review the boat limit for Dhufish at the time, preferring to obtain more data on Dhufish from the boat ramp surveys and future stock assessments.
A study of recreational boat fishing catches released in 2015 provided Recfishwest with the confidence that our original request in 2013 was sustainable and that a change to the boat limit would not negatively impact Dhufish stocks. Once again we sought a commitment from the Department of Fisheries to investigate the effect of changes to the boat limit of Dhufish. The Department of Fisheries once again preferred to await more information.
Recfishwest is proud to announce the Department of Fisheries has now agreed to review Recfishwest’s request when information from the latest stock assessment for Dhufish becomes available later this year.
Of course, any decisions must be based on sound science using the best information available with sustainability at the forefront. Recfishwest are comfortable that an increase in the boat limit of Dhufish would still see our sectors catch remain below the level needed to ensure the continued recovery of this iconic species. This change, however, would greatly improve fishing experiences on those rare times when there are more than two fishers on board and you are all lucky enough to hook onto a Dhufish.
Recfishwest believes any increase in the number of Dhufish retained as a result of increases to the Dhufish Boat limit will have a minimum biological impact on stocks and provide a major positive impact on recreational fishing amenity. Any increase in catches will remain below the level required to ensure the sustainable recovery of Dhufish.
It’s important to remember that not all of us are lucky enough to catch multiple Dhufish every time we go fishing, but for this special occasion, we believe a group of three should each be able to take a Dhufish home to their family.
We are confident the next stock assessment will reflect the recovery that fishos have been seeing since 2013 and are hopeful management arrangements can be amended to allow an increase in the boat limit of Dhufish before the end of the West Coast Demersal Closure on December 15 this year allowing more West Aussies to enjoy a Dhufish for Christmas!
Prized Dhufish, Pink Snapper and Baldchin Groper will be the catch of the day for Christmas with anglers in the West Coast Bioregion once again allowed to fish for demersal scalefish.
In another positive for recreational fishers and demersal fish stocks, the closures over the past six years are proving successful going on the catches from earlier this year.
Recfishwest Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Rowland said the two-month closure on catching demersal scalefish (from October 15 to December 15) in the West Coast zone introduced in 2009, has been effective.
“The goal of achieving a 50 per cent reduction in catch numbers since management changes were introduced has been reached, and we’ve made great strides toward allowing stocks to recover, and ensuring sustainability of this fishery,” he said.
“This will have great flow on effects and it is a credit to responsible WA fishers that the recreational sector was able to meet the targets set by fisheries managers.
“If these fish stocks continue to show the same level of recovery, the easing of management controls on demersal fish species in the West Coast could be on the cards in the future.
The closure lifting does not include Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds, which remain closed to fishing for pink snapper until the 31 January. Dr Rowland said the additional closed areas are critical to spawning.
Recfishwest advocates for sustainable fishing resources and policies that ensure long term benefits to all recreational fishers.
For more information about Recfishwest visit www.recfishwest.org.au or phone Recfishwest on 9246 3366.