West coast demersal changes – time to set right a broken fisheries policy with commercial licence buy-back scheme

From tomorrow (Wednesday 1 February) the west coast demersal fishery will be closed to recreational fishing until the end of March as part of new changes introduced by the Government in December (see below for more details about the rule changes).

Recfishwest called for this late summer closure as it coincides with part of the peak spawning period for dhufish and we are proud it is widely supported by our members and our Expert Working Group because we care passionately about the future of these fish.

However, we remain disappointed that the closure will not apply to all sectors with the commercial fishing industry able to continue to target spawning aggregations of dhufish during this period.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “If the Government truly cares about ensuring the sustainability of demersal fish between Augusta and Kalbarri, they need to explain why they do not support better protection for spawning dhufish.

“It’s yet another example of the fundamentally inequitable way this fishery has been managed for decades and it’s too important for old and embedded sectoral favouritism to continue to underpin management decisions.

“Fisheries management should ensure the greatest good is delivered to the greatest number from the sustainable catch of fish – that is simply not happening under the current regime with 64 per cent of the west coast demersal catch reserved for private profit.

“We need a fairer more equitable and sustainable approach, giving spawning dhufish more protection and fishing mums and dads more time out on the water to be able to optimise all the social, mental and well-being benefits fishing brings.”

HEAR WHAT ANDREW HAD TO SAY ON THE ABC REGIONAL DRIVE PROGRAM HERE

The Government claims there is no evidence that dhufish aggregate to spawn. This image and evidence from DPIRD’s own research scientists suggest otherwise. Video still: @fbk3lly YouTube channel.

Commercial licence buy-back scheme details must be thrashed out as soon as possible

Recfishwest will always support action to ensure sustainability but shutting out 700,000 West Aussies from being able to catch dhufish and pink snapper for six months of the year is an unnecessary overreach.

Part of the $10 million package put forward by the Fisheries Minister to support the west coast demersal changes included a yet-to-be specified amount to be allocated to a Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme (VFAS) to offer commercial operators fair and reasonable compensation to voluntarily exit the fishery.

“We need the Government to thrash out the details and progress the VFAS as quickly as possible,” said Dr Rowland. “There is a great opportunity here for the Government to put right an outdated and broken fisheries policy that places profit before the public good.

“We need a comprehensive and transparent buy-back scheme that can assure the community that every tax-payer’s dollar spent on it is delivering the best return through a sustainably and equitably managed system in line with the harvest strategy for this fishery.”

Changes to the west coast demersal rules – 1 February 2023

The free upgraded Recfishwest app contains all the fishing rules at your fingertips including outside of mobile range. You can download the app for free on the App and Google Play stores.

The new demersal rules will go live in the new app from Wednesday when they come into effect – in the meantime see below for the rule changes in full.

Annual demersal fishing closed seasons in the West Coast Bioregion:

– 1 February to 31 March (to 28 March in 2024 to accommodate Easter) (inclusive);

– 1 August to the beginning of the September/October school holidays (22 September 2023); and

– end of the September/October school holidays (9 October 2023) to 15 December (inclusive).

Note: this does not apply to land-based line fishers, charter fishers, or commercial fishers.

  • Bag limit of two WA dhufish within the mixed species bag limit of two demersal scalefish in the West Coast Bioregion.
  • Demersal scalefish boat limit of four (excludes charter boats).
  • Remove the WA dhufish boat limit.
  • Remove size limits for WA dhufish, baldchin groper and breaksea cod.
  • A maximum of one bait or lure attached to a line can be used when fishing for demersal scalefish in the West Coast Bioregion.
  • Extend the timing of the pink snapper spawning closure in Cockburn and Warnbro Sounds from 1 August to 31 January (inclusive).
  • Realign the baldchin groper spawning closure at the Abrolhos Islands from 1 October to 31 December (inclusive).

Abrolhos Islands: The Abrolhos Island Fish Habitat Protection Area is being managed as a Wilderness Fishing Area to allow visitors to experience unique marine-based activities, while appreciating a sense of remoteness, amenity and lifestyle.

The following changes to bag and possession limits provide for low take, low takeaway recreational fishing at the Abrolhos Islands while also contributing to the recovery of demersal scalefish stocks in the West Coast Bioregion;

  • bag limit of one demersal scalefish;
  • possession limit of:

– 5kg of fillets from any species, plus 5kg of fillets from large pelagic finfish (must have skin attached for identification purposes); OR

– one day’s bag limit of whole fish.

Recreational boat fishers will next be able to drop a line for west coast demersal species such as pink snapper from 1 April until the start of the September/October school holidays.

 

West Coast Demersal Update – October 21

Recfishwest is continuing to work closely with the Government towards a package for west coast demersal fish that can ensure there will be fish for the future while keeping fishers on the water.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Government is at the table with us. We have put our position strongly to them and that has been received. It is fair to say this is genuine consultation, that no decision has yet been made and that there has been some constructive discussions.”

Key elements of Recfishwest’s west coast demersal package

  • Increased spawning protection for fish, particularly dhufish, from 20 January to 20 March
  • The fishery being closed for a total of 4.5 months.
  • A wide range of other measures including reviewing size limits, better fishing practices education and increasing gear restrictions
  • Better data collection and science including real time recreational fishing data collection, better understanding of the shark bite-off issue and a better understanding of the potential effectiveness of stocking of species like snapper and dhufish.

Find out more about Recfishwest’s west coast demersal package presented to the Government here

“Core to our package is increased spawning protection for demersal fish, particularly dhufish, along with a Term 3 closure,” said Andrew, “This would amount to the fishery being closed for around four-and-a-half months and would be in addition to a range of other measures we have proposed aimed at reducing mortality of these fish.”

Giving increased spawning protection for demersal species, particularly dhufish, is a cornerstone of the Recfishwest west coast demersal package put forward to Government.

Listen to an interview here with Andrew on Karl Langdon’s 6PR Fishing Show about the west coast demersal issue

Following the ongoing discussions, Recfishwest understands a decision on the final west coast demersal package will be announced by the Government in early to mid-November.

Andrew said, “It’s really important to understand we are focussed on sustainability and that is what our package does. We are doing what needs to be done in terms of reducing fish mortality, while allowing people to spend more time on the water avoiding an eight or nine-month closure.”

Andrew said the response up to this point from the recreational fishing community has been “absolutely fantastic.”

“We really want to thank everyone for their genuine support,” he said.  “It’s brought home to us just how deeply people care about these fish. People are happy to play their role but believe there is a better way.”

Banner image courtesy of Daiwa and Fishes of Australia website.

Bag limit increase from 12 to 20 recognises the value of herring to West Aussie recfishers

Recfishwest welcomes the latest announcement from Fisheries Minister Don Punch, who announced the bag limit for herring – ‘the people’s fish’ – has officially increased from 12 to 20 as of Saturday, October 1.  

A good outcome for fishers, it maximises the benefits of the fish for the community, while ensuring its sustainability, with stocks more than amply recovered to a sufficient level to continue growing while supporting the increased bag limit.  

The decision to increase the bag limit to 20 came after Recfishwest recommended the change to the Minister having gauged the views of more than 4,000 recreational fishers who provided us their views through our herring bag limit survey.  

Herring are one of the most easy-to-catch and accessible species across WA.

Maximising social and economic benefits

It also follows the Government’s decision to prioritise herring for recreation and human consumption in line with the current Fisheries Act which legally obliges the State Government of the day to achieve “the optimum economic, social and other benefits from the use of fish resource.”  

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “This is a great outcome and shows what a sensible fisheries management approach can achieve that recognises and takes on board the input of recreational fishers.  

“We hope the Minister can adopt a similar sensible approach in arriving at a decision for the west coast demersal scalefish fishery that can balance the need to speed up the recovery of the stock without wrecking the lifestyle and livelihoods of tens of thousands of recreational fishers. 

“Let’s not forget that at one point prior to the management changes being made in 2015, Fisheries put a three-month closure on the table for herring that included the Easter holidays – a traditional time where West Aussie kids fish with their families to get a feed of herring.  

“Thankfully that initial herring proposal didn’t proceed as the Department listened to the views of the community and found a ‘better way’ to protect sustainability without destroying the social benefits – this is exactly what needs to be done with the proposed nine-month closure for west coast demersals.  

“We are currently in discussions with the Minister and the Department to hopefully arrive at a more balanced and sensible outcome for west coast demersal just as we did with herring.”  

Herring are one of the most important fish species in WA as they act as a gateway into fishing, especially for young children.

“A sensible and balanced outcome”

Fisheries Minister Don Punch said, “With the herring recovery backed by the latest scientific stock assessment, Recfishwest requested the daily herring bag limit increase from 12 to 20. I am very pleased we can make this change, which will enable fishers to catch an ample feed for themselves and their family.”  

Read Minister Punch’s full media release here 

Andrew added, “Herring gives great fishing memories to a wide range of angling families across the State and this crucial species has given many a young angler’s first love for fishing given their abundance and accessibility.   

“It doesn’t matter if you’re new to fishing or an experienced angler, all fishers love catching herring, which are good-eating and are a frequent catch off most of WA’s jetties, beaches and rock walls.  

“Thank you to all recreational fishing community members for your input into this decision. It’s great to see your efforts have been recognised and rewarded in recovering this fishery. We will continue to make sure there are plenty of herring around for future generations to enjoy forever.”  

Fisheries Minister fixes DPIRD’s Harvey Dam marron stocking blocking with 100,000 juveniles to be released

After a long three-year stocking hiatus, Harvey Dam is finally set to see 100,000 marron make a splash into its waterways in 2023. 

The announcement by the Fisheries Minister Don Punch fixes a decision by DPIRD to prevent marron being stocked into Harvey Dam as part of a stocking program funded by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund and launched by the Premier Mark McGowan at the dam in 2019.  

Read the full media release from the Fisheries Minister here.  

Harvey Dam is the most popular recreational marroning location in our South West and provides an ideal habitat for marron spawning and growth.

Over the last few years, the team from Aquafarms, supported by Recfishwest, helped release 300,000 marron into the popular Waroona and Logue Brook dams.  

Large numbers of marron were also supposed to be released into Harvey Dam last year as part of this project, but one month before stocking DPIRD advised Recfishwest that, approval to stock Harvey Dam would not be provided.  

DPIRD’s rationale for refusing permission to stock Harvey Dam was largely based on two-decade old research. However, this rationale did not extend to Logue Brook or Waroona Dams, leaving local marron fishers confused and disappointed that the premier marroning location of a recreational-only fishery was missing out, despite assurances it would be a focus of the stocking project.  

Recfishwest raised our concerns directly with the Fisheries Minister and is pleased that he cut through the red tape put in place by DPIRD to ensure marron would be stocked in WA’s premier marooning location as intended.

This photo, taken in December 2019, was the last time marron were stocked into Harvey Dam, shortly after Premier Mark McGowan announced the RFIF-funded marron stocking program.

A sensible outcome  

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “We thank the Minister for listening to Recfishwest and overcoming needless Government bureaucracy to right this wrong – it’s a sensible resolution that ensures a good outcome for the community.  

“By working with the Minister and DPIRD, we hope to achieve a similar sensible resolution for the west coast demersal fishery and avoid the extensive social and economic damage the Government’s initial proposal for a nine-month ban would cause. 

“Marron is an icon of the South-West and marroning is a hugely popular pastime, with Harvey Dam the most popular marroning location.  

“The marron season brings in thousands of freshwater fishers from around the state to the pristine South-West waterways, helping inject millions of dollars back into our regional tourism economies.  

“Stocking initiatives like this can future-proof the marron fishery and take us closer to our vision of year-round marroning.” 

Breeding from the marron captured at Harvey Dam has already begun, with restocking expected to start as early as June next year.

Check out our marron fishing tips on our ilovefishing website

Marroning in Harvey Dam is hugely popular, especially when larger catches like these are made possible thanks to the dam’s ideal conditions.

More artificial reefs plus more FADs equals even better fishing this summer!

Fast facts:

  • Long-awaited metro reef gets the green light for early 2021, 7km off Ocean Reef;
  • First modules poured for Carnarvon Reef  with consultation about to begin for Albany artificial reef;
  • Second year of FADs trial program about to launch in the bottom half of the State, including FADs going in off Geraldton.

Today, Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland joined the Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley at Subcon — Blue Solutions’ yard in Henderson to announce that the long-awaited north metro artificial reef has got the green light for deployment 7km off Ocean Reef in early 2021.

So, it’s not every day you get a new fishing spot given to you for free – but if you’ve got a boat and you fish in the metro area, get these coordinates in your plotter now!

This is the centre-point for the new north metro ‘array’ off Ocean Reef. To be based in 27m of water, the reef will be comprised of 292 purpose-designed concrete modules ranging in height from 0.7m to 1.8m and cover an area of 15ha – that’s a space roughly equivalent to four Optus Stadiums.

Constructed by Subcon — who have a strong track-record in artificial reef design and deployment across Australia — this will be the seventh artificial reef to be deployed across WA.

“Experience shows it won’t be long at all before the modules accumulate marine growth that will quickly begin to support new fish habitat,” Dr Rowland said.

“With species like pink snapper, yellowtail kingfish, Samson fish and skippy predicted to make the reef system home, it won’t be long either before the reef is creating safe and accessible, great new fishing opportunities for small boat owners.

“We know these structures evolve quickly as habitat through our Reef Vision program which sees hours of video footage collected by volunteers using underwater cameras dropped on artificial reefs capturing the structures’ development.”

Check out our latest Reef Vision footage from Exmouth’s King Reef at the two-year point in its development.   

Recfishwest would have liked to have seen the north metro reef go in sooner than this, as there has been a great appetite for it from the local recfishing community – but securing Commonwealth environmental approvals for the reef was held up for a number of reasons including COVID.

“Nevertheless, we have got here and the deployment of the metro reef will mark a great start to 2021, as well as the beginning of the next chapter in the State-wide artificial reef program.

This exciting stage sees consultation beginning with the Albany community next month about their artificial reef project and the first Carnarvon artificial reef modules being poured.

Also, bubbling away in the background is research and discussions with oil and gas companies around the possibility of reefing some of their marine infrastructure on the North West artificial shelf which already holds a spectacular array of fish biomass and biodiversity as Fisheries Research and Development Corporation recently reported.

School students Stephanie King and Ellen King join Subcon’s Matt Allen, Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland and Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley having helped construct the reef modules as part of the Future Englneers program. Picture: Recfishwest

Meanwhile, Recfishwest are preparing to kick off the second year of our trial State-wide FADs program which, building on from the success and lessons learnt from last year’s run, will see FADs going in off the metro, Cape Naturaliste and Albany.

“I am also very pleased to let you know we will be deploying FADs off Geraldton this year, with the devices expected to be going in the water in December,” Dr Rowland said.

“We’ll be bringing you more details about the FADs deployment in the next couple of weeks – but just with artificial reefs and FADs alone, there are already some exciting fishing enhancing developments in the pipeline. We’re also working hard to deliver some other projects this summer too – so stay tuned and watch this space.”

Yellowtail kingfish are set to get reels zinging at Ocean Reef’s artificial reef!