Dhufish Boat Limit to Remain at Two

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.

Dhufish Boat Limit Update

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!

Demersal on the Menu in time for Christmas

Demersal on the Menu in time 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.