A discussion paper released by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) on October 25th called into question the suitability of current management arrangements for Blue Swimmer Crabs on
the lower West Coast and highlighted an urgent need to better protect breeding stocks.
The discussion paper highlighted a particular concern about the current level of protection provided to mated, pre-spawn female crabs which become highly vulnerable to capture in late autumn, winter and spring.
For many years Recfishwest have been seeking changes to the way lower west coast crab fisheries are managed in order to protect this important resource and part of our WA culture, and we’re pleased to provide an update.
Following our extensive community consultation via an online survey which was accessed by 3,961 fishers, Recfishwest is making the following recommendations to ensure you can enjoy crab fishing well into the future:
FMP 288: Protecting breeding stock levels of the blue swimmer crab resource in the lower west coast.
Summary of recommendations from Recfishwest:
- We believe that lower west coast crab fisheries should be prioritised for recreation.
The south-west region is the heartland of crabbing for the recreational fishing sector. In fact, about 90% of our sectors catch comes from iconic lower west coast fisheries such as the Peel/Harvey and Swan River. For this reason, we believe that the lower west coast crab fisheries should be prioritised for recreational fishing experiences.
- Each fishery should be managed to deliver the best experience, even if that means different rules in different fisheries.
Different crab fisheries in the lower west coast provide different fishing experiences at different times of year. For example, the Geographe Bay fishery provides the best crabbing in winter and spring, whereas the Swan River and Peel/Harvey fisheries provide the best crabbing in summer and autumn.
Given these differences, our survey showed the vast majority of people supported managing fisheries to deliver positive experiences, even if that meant different rules in different fisheries.
- Male only fisheries are not our preferred method for achieving the level of protection required for breeding crabs.
On the surface it may seem logical that a male only fishery would provide protection for pre-spawn female crabs. However, given the suite of other options available, a male only fishery is not Recfishwest’s preference at this time. We believe other measures would provide greater benefit to protecting breeding stock.
After talking to crab scientists about the likelihood of sperm limitation and investigating the impact male only rules have had on other crab fisheries in Australia, Recfishwest are not convinced male only fisheries is the best management option available to provide breeding crabs with the protection they require.
A male only fishery would result in a de facto closure of the Geographe Bay recreational crab fishery, whose catches are predominantly female and whose fishery does not impact on any other fisheries (recreational or commercial) in the lower west coast.
Recfishwest recognise fishers who currently choose not to retain female crabs are already providing a significant form of protection for crab breeding stock and these fishers play a role in influencing the behaviour of other crab fishers.
- An increase in the minimum legal length is not supported at this stage.
Almost two thirds of survey respondents were not in favour of increasing the minimum legal size for crabs. Should other management measures be successful, it is highly likely that the average size of crabs in these fisheries will increase. Should this be the case, an increase to the minimum legal size can be considered at this time.
- A broad-scale seasonal closure is implemented from 1st May – Dec 14th*
*(Closure times for the Geographe Bay crab fishery should be determined following further consultation with local fishers)
Recfishwest believe that broad scale seasonal closures are the best option for providing protection to breeding stock of crabs and 87% of survey respondents agree.
Over 80% of recreational crabbing occurs during the summer and autumn periods, so broad scale closures during winter and spring are a simple and effective management tool that will provide a benefit back to the resource, which, over time, will improve crabbing experiences for everyone.
Different closure times in Geographe Bay should be given consideration due to the winter and spring nature of this fishery.
- A night time curfew for lower west coast crab fisheries is not something we support.
Recfishwest believe that people should be able to access this community owned resource regardless of the time of day. We understand that whilst a night time curfew might make compliance activities easier, we believe that excluding people from fishing during night time does not maximise the return of the resource back to the community.
We believe a targeted compliance campaign resulting in boat and vehicle confiscations similar to Operation Bagana recently undertaken for the Rock Lobster fishery, will assist compliance activities more than a curfew.
- Measures should be implemented that reduce the amount of female crabs taken by the Mandurah to Bunbury Developing Crab fishery.
The crabs being caught in this commercial fishery underpin the Peel-Harvey and Leschenault estuary crab fisheries. Recfishwest believe it is not appropriate to allow vulnerable female crabs that feed our favourite estuaries to be targeted to such an extent. We have real concerns about the ongoing viability of the adjacent estuarine crab fisheries while these operations catch high levels of female crabs, many of which are taken during important spawning times. The Marine Stewardship Council’s full certification report for the Peel/Harvey crab fishery highlighted that commercial fishing effort in the nearby oceanic waters should be closely monitored to ensure that breeding stock does not reduce to a point where recruitment becomes impaired.
- The Hardy Inlet and Blackwood River crab fishery should be included in management actions arising from FMP 288.
From a fisheries management perspective, the Hardy Inlet and Blackwood River are a part of the West Coast Estuarine Managed Fishery Management Plan 2014 and within the West Coast Bioregion. Recfishwest cannot see why this crab fishery operating under the West Coast Estuarine Management Plan has been excluded from FMP 288.
- The impact on tourism associated with blue swimmer crabs should be considered when developing management actions.
Any management changes arising from this discussion paper should consider the impact on tourism as a result of management changes. The Government has very clearly articulated the importance of developing Western Australian tourism and blue swimmer crabs have their part to play in this push for increased tourism.
- Management arrangements for Cockburn Sound are reviewed with the intention to facilitate a summer recreational crab fishery.
Given the aspirations for commercial and recreational fishers are vastly different and the impacts from each sector are at opposite ends of the catch spectrum, Recfishwest believe there needs to be a review of crab management in the Cockburn Sound crab fishery. Part of this review should be assessing the suitability of reference levels and the relative impact of each sector with the intention to facilitate a summer recreational crab fishery.
We were completely overwhelmed and extremely pleased by the number of responses received for the survey which encompassed all the crab fishing areas from the Swan River through to Geographe Bay.
We are hopeful your feedback and our submission will result in these fisheries being managed to provide great fishing experiences for many years to come.
For our full submission to the Department click below.
Recfishwest Submission on Lower West Coast Blue Swimmer Crabs
For the background story on crabs, click below.