Dr Andrew Rowland, Recfishwest CEO, and Operations Officer Sam Bock were recently on the south coast listening to the concerns of local fishers about the potential impact of DBCA’s proposed marine park.
Stretching along 1,000 km of coastline from Bremer Bay to the WA/SA border, many local fishers told Andrew and Sam that the marine park already has a predefined political outcome and will be an unnecessary overreach coming out of Perth.
These concerns have been stoked by the bad publicity surrounding the consultation process to date.
While there, Andrew was also in the news on the front page of the Esperance Weekender and was on ABC Esperance, Goldfields, Mid-West and Wheatbelt calling for the consultation process to get back on track to enable a balanced outcome to be achieved.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction’s (DBCA’s) marine park on the south coast has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons.
From shire council presidents, to leading members of the marine park’s Community Reference Committee (CRC), to community engagement officers, a growing chorus of voices have publicly criticised the direction the planning process has taken in the last few months (see some of their comments in the news and on social media below).
“There is mounting concern that our freedom to fish beaches and offshore areas prized by generations of south coast residents and visitors is on the line, “ said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland. “With our own experiences of it to date, we share the community’s concerns that the planning process for the marine park has gone sideways.”
Fishing community input appears ignored
As part of what was promised to be an open, transparent and genuine consultation process, Recfishwest was requested to provide a clear understanding of the fishing areas and experiences valued highly by recreational fishers.
Through a series of community meetings and survey feedback from hundreds of south coast fishers a data-driven picture of the places that matter most to fishers was generated by Recfishwest.
“We have provided this detailed feedback to DBCA, yet this input appears to have been completely ignored,” said Andrew. “In the interests of an informed and transparent consultation process, it would be entirely reasonable to expect to see a comprehensive social economic impact assessment of a marine park on the region. Yet, despite claims made in Parliament that one has been undertaken, we have seen no evidence that this is the case.”
The need for balance
Fishing and camping along south coast beaches with friends, family and your dog is part and parcel of the south coast community’s cultural and social fabric. Recfishwest strongly advocates that these activities must be conserved in any marine park along with the marine environment that supports them.
“The establishment of a marine park along the south coast must be balanced and should not deprive local communities from accessing popular fishing locations and beaches and all the well-being, family, social and economic benefits they provide to the local community,” said Andrew.
If you care about the south coast marine environment and enjoy fishing between Bremer Bay and the SA/WA boarder, it is important to have your say on the proposals once they are released for public comment. We’ll be keeping our community up to date on future developments.
Local resident and Community Reference Committee member Dr Kristen Perks, a respected marine biologist, took to social media to give her view on the planning process to date.
Dr Perks says DBCA ignored the input of DPIRD, their joint planning partner, in draft plans for the park put forward to the CRC for comment.
Dr Perks said, “It is unfortunate and disappointing DPIRD’s recommendations were not taken into account by DBCA. In my view DPIRD’s draft zoning recommendations had recognised and respected the socio-economic values of our local community and provided a good balance between conservation, recreation and commercial fishers.
“I believe with a marine park boundary spanning 1,000km from Bremer Bay to the South Australian border, SURELY, we can come up with a good compromise to enable marine sustainability whilst delivering the least impact on industry and the community’s ability to enjoy our local waters.
“I am prepared (and hopefully everyone is as well) to get on my soapbox to ensure we get balance for all parties and create a Marine Park we can all be proud of.”
South coast fishing stalwart and popular YouTuber Gideon Mettam – usually a moderate voice on fishing matters – has also fired up on his channels about the way he fears things might be going.
“Usually, I want nothing to do with all this political stuff, but this is too much. You all ought to have an idea of what’s going on ahead of time, so you’re ready to tell them where to shove their unnecessary sanctuary zones that will prevent us from enjoying the already pristine south coast.”
Petition gaining traction
A petition, organised by Esperance local recreational fisher Neil Pechar, has already amassed more than 2,800 signatures at the time of writing.
“We feel if we don’t speak up the Government will just run with it and we will lose a lot of our fishing areas and lifestyle which is pretty important for us in Esperance,” Neil told the ABC.
The Esperance Weekender recently reported the contract of the Esperance-based DBCA community engagement officer, hired to liaise with and help inform the community, was not renewed moving into the critical community consultation phase of the planning process.
“I feel disappointed and sorry that the broader community voice may not be heard as effectively as it should be going forward,” said the engagement officer. “There was every expectation that my role was for the entirety of the marine park planning process as clearly articulated in the Community Engagement Strategy endorsed by the former Minister.”
If you want an example of how important fishing is to the south coast – look no further than Esperance and last weekend’s (March 10-12) sensational Esperance Deep Sea Angling Club’s (EDSAC) Esperance Archipelago Offshore Angling Classic.
With Samson fish tipping the scales at more than 22kg along with spectacular harlequin fish, snapper and breaksea cod — it’s no wonder more than 600 people came down to the weigh-in at Esperance’s biggest fishing comp and enjoyed a fantastic weekend of fishing and socialising!
There were 275 competing anglers on 83 boats taking part in the competition – making it one of the biggest boat fishing tournaments if not the biggest in WA.
The 30th edition of this great fishing competition proved not just to be one of the biggest community events of the year in Esperance, but also drew anglers from throughout the Great Southern and Goldfields regions.
It’s also something of a local spectacle as with competitors’ friends and family members turning out to watch the traditional competition boat ‘fleet’ running out of Esperance Bay.
The mixed bag of fish species off the south coast combined with impressive prizes for the biggest catches meant there was plenty of excitement on who would take out each prize category.
Tyson Tate’s 22.40kg Samson fish not only landed him more than $20,000 in total for the heaviest fish caught and largest Samson fish overall — but his name was also pulled out of a hat containing hundreds of other raffle contestants to win a Garmin sounder package worth more than $5,000!
See the full set of results from the Classic below.
The Esperance Classic came on the back of another firm fixture in the south coast fishing calendar — Southerners Sport Club Fishing Classic held in Hopetoun, which was celebrating its 29th edition earlier this month, with dozens of contestants landing various species to take home spectacular prizes.
The two tournaments once again highlighted how highly prized the fishing on offer on the south coast is by the people who live there and those who travel there to sample what’s on offer, with EDSAC President Corrina Worth perfectly summarising why these fishing experiences need to be safeguarded.
“We are just very privileged to be able to access some beautiful places and catch some great fish along the south coast with minimal effort. Looking after that opportunity and protecting it for future generations is very important,” said Corrina.
Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett, who was in Esperance for the comp and to talk to fishers about the Government’s proposed south coast marine park, said it was the biggest crowd he’s ever seen attending the event.
“You can’t fail to see what fishing means to this community and people in this part of the world when you attend an event like this – it’s fantastic to see how the comp brings the community together and generates such a positive and enthusiastic atmosphere.
“And that’s for anglers across the board of all ages and capabilities – that’s the power of fishing and it’s why fishing events and experiences like these must be able to continue – they’re central to the fabric of community life and regional West Aussies’ well-being.
“This is backed up by the recently published results of the National Recfishing Survey that shows fishing is highly important for improved wellbeing along with injections into our regional economies.
“These massive benefits from fishing must be dialed into marine park planning processes currently underway along the south coast because one of the purposes of parks is to maximise the benefits to the WA community from these special environments.
“Well done to all fishers who took part and made this year’s event another ripper edition of the Offshore Angling Classic and, of course, congratulations to EDSAC President Corrina Worth and her team for their hard work in hosting another cherished calendar fixture for the Esperance community.”
With fishers now preparing for the 2023 GAMEX at Exmouth which kicks off from 17-25 March, the Pilbara region in WA’s north is also set to be injected with plenty of excitement and economic contributions from visitors. Stay tuned for our full GAMEX recap!
30th Esperance Archipelago Offshore Angling Classic – the full set of results
BREAKSEA 1st Boat 79 Shane Temple 2.822kg – 2nd Boat 99 Ryan Nelson 2.591kg
Esperance’s fishing community is closer to resecuring land-based fishing accessibility which has been lost for five years, with confirmation the town’s new $7.5 million jetty is half-way complete.
“We had hoped the jetty would be a little further along by now and completed by the end of the year, however, we are still on track as per the contract to be finished by March 2021,” Shire of Esperance CEO Shane Burge said, in great news for the Goldfields-Esperance region’s fishers.
Four-hundred metres of fantastic fishing
H+H Architects consulted Recfishwest regarding the new jetty’s design, with Recfishwest’s James Florisson playing a role in putting forward recommendations for fishing-specific features on the structure.
The new jetty will be 400m long once built and incorporate fishing-enhancing design elements, such as:
A widened modern fishing jetty component which will allow enough space for fishers to fish either side of the gangway;
Lower platforms to accommodate fishing and diving access;
Fishability ‘set-downs’ to allow people in wheelchairs and scooters to fish easily from the jetty;
Jetty-based fish-cleaning station positioned over water;
Fish-friendly lighting to fishing areas; and
Fisher-friendly railings and built-in fishing seats.
Unlocking fishing opportunity for locals and holidaymakers
In December 2015, there was community uproar when it was announced Esperance’s renowned Tanker Jetty – which officially opened in 1935 – would be closed due to its declining condition.
The jetty had been an iconic fishing location for 80 years, with locals and holidaymakers alike fishing for a host of bread-and-butter species including herring, skippy and squid.
“Understandably, its closure was a massive blow to the community given the lack of land-based options at Esperance,” James, who cut his fishing teeth as a lad in Esperance, said.
“For many young fishers, myself included, the original jetty provided hours on hours of fishing fun.
“That’s why this new jetty is so important – that loss of land-based fishing accessibility was a huge blow for the fishing community, particularly kids who had limited other options in town.”
Once built, James said Esperance’s new jetty will re-open land-based fishing access which had been unavailable for almost five years.
“A quality, safe fishing platform in the heart of Esperance has always been an integral part of the local community, also providing fishing access for the many visitors who roll into town each year,” he said.
“Many jetties have been lost across WA over the years, that is why it is great to see a new one being built – every seaside town should have a fishing jetty.”
Recfishwest puts the call out for artificial reef filming fisher volunteers
Recfishwest is casting out for red-hot keen boat fishers who want to be part of the the marine citizen science program, Reef Vision – the first of its kind in the world.
We’re looking for more volunteers to join the ever-growing and valuable Reef Vision team and help catch valuable footage of the state’s artificial reefs while out fishing.
The Reef Vision Program is made up of passionate fishers from the recreational fishing community who assist Recfishwest map and monitor the growth and development of these fish habitat-enhancement structures in Esperance, Dunsborough, Busselton, Mandurah and Exmouth.
The State’s artificial reefs program driven by Recfishwest, has been developed to provide great fishing opportunities relatively close to shore allowing small boat owners the chance to have better fishing experiences.
Each Reef Vision volunteer is given a BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video) camera, and training on how to set up, deploy and retrieve the equipment.
The volunteers drop the cameras near to the reef on their way to their fishing spot and record an hour of video footage of the artificial reefs. This footage is later analysed by Recfishwest, university researchers and students to see what fish are using the reefs and helping us to understand the benefits of artificial reefs and the fish that call them home.
To date, Reef Vision volunteers have collected hundreds of hours of valuable footage from the six artificial reefs monitored in the reef vision program identifying hundreds of different species including dhufish, Samson fish, baldchin groper, pink snapper and large schools of mulloway and red emperor, Rankin cod, queenfish and blue bone.
“I love my fishing here in WA and being part of Reef Vision gives me the chance to give something back. It’s also really cool to see what’s going on down there – there are some amazing things you see” said Reef Vision volunteer Garry Dyer.
Recfishwest’s Research Officer Steph Watts said, “We need to know what’s happening on these reefs, and it’s even more important that the volunteers are enjoying their time collecting the footage for us.
“They’re the backbone of Reef Vision, and we can’t thank them enough,”
Throughout our great State, there are many community groups and champions rolling up their sleeves to make fishing better in their local area.
One of those clubs is the Esperance Deep Sea Angling Club. The club has been recognised for their work on the Esperance Artificial Reef, named Cooper Reef in honour local stalwart Graham Cooper, who is helping lead the project.
The fantastic efforts were honoured on 29 June when Esperance Deep Sea Angling Club claimed the ‘Best Project’ award in the small clubs category of the Clubs WA Awards for Excellence.
Recfishwest attended the awards event with Graham and fellow club member Nigel Worth.
Part of what made the recognition extra special was the fact that many club members literally built the reef with their own hands when they helped to pour dozens of the 128 concrete modules that now make up the reef.
Artificial reefs from Esperance to Exmouth continue to provide great fishing experiences for local communities.
All of these projects were born out of dedicated local fishers who had a vision to improve fishing and the drive to make it happen.
Recfishwest are extremely proud to have been able to assist Graham and his team in delivering this exciting project for their local community.
The development came to fruition in December 2016, after it was announced it would receive $300,000 in funding from the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund.
In March last year, the project doubled in size after the Goldfields Esperance Development Commission matched the existing funding.
The local vision, which has now developed into a 150 tonne project, was designed to rectify the substantial loss of fishing access in the region due to geographical and environmental factors.
South East Coast Recreational Fishing Council chairman Graham Cooper said it was a special feeling to know that the reef build was something that both members and their children would be able to enjoy.
“It’s great that we could keep the work and the reef materials sourced locally,” he said.
“I can’t wait to catch a queenie or a sambo on a reef that the Esperance fishing community built with their own hands.”
Recfishwest Research officer James Florisson said the reef design was configured specifically for local species and had been thoughtfully designed by engineers, marine biologists and ecologists.
Mr Florisson said the reef configuration would create a productive ecosystem for a variety of different species of fish.
“It will provide a home for species such as Queen Snapper, Breaksea Cod, Skippy, Harlequin and Pink Snapper,” he said.
“This could not have been done without the support of the community and the volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make this happen.”
The reef was built and will be installed by artificial reef experts at global marine foundation Subcon.
It is expected the reef will be deployed in September this year.