Good signs of recovery for west coast demersal scalefish but we’re not out of the woods yet

With this week marking the lifting of the west coast demersal closure, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) have released the latest stock assessment science.

We hope those of you who have already headed out to try and bag yourself a dhuie, pinkie or a baldie have managed to get amongst ‘em.

It’s been 10 years since wholesale rule changes were brought in to recover some of these species after all the research showed the stocks were in strife. Since those changes were implemented, recfishers have played our part – a big part – in sticking to the rules designed to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the catch from 2005/6 levels and recover these slow-growing species’ stocks within a 20-year timeframe.

Now we are at the recovery plan’s mid-way point, the Department have released a west coast demersal update based on their latest research.

READ DPIRD’S WEST COAST DEMERSAL RECOVERY RESEARCH SUMMARY HERE

Good stewardship pays off

It will come as no surprise to many of us who target bottom fish in the metro and the South West that there are some good signs with many more, smaller dhuies being seen in the last few years. This is certainly grounds for cautious optimism, showing that our good work and stewardship, sticking to bag and size limits, and the annual two-month closure, is paying off.

However, we’re not out of the woods yet with the research showing limited evidence of recovery for demersal scalefish stocks in the Mid-West and Kalbarri areas. In addition, there appears to be few older dhuies and pinkies in the Department’s samples from across the whole bioregion (Kalbarri down to Augusta).

This shows there is still away to go and, while the recovery is progressing well, we need to keep doing what we’re doing to ensure the recovery stays on track.

That means doing everything we can to ensure released fish go back healthily. Barotrauma can impact on these species significantly, with the research summary showing that ‘post-release mortality’ – fish dying after being released – is potentially having an impact on the recovery.

So, it’s imperative to handle the fish carefully and use release weights to give them the best chance of going back well, if returning them.

It also highlights why catch and release fishing for demersals is not OK and once you’ve hit your bag limit, it’s important to move on and target other species like pelagics and squid.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WHY CATCH AND RELEASE FISHING FOR DEMERSALS IS NOT OK HERE

Taking stock

Clearly, the Department needs to keep gathering scientific evidence to monitor the recovery’s progress.  And this is also where we can all play a big part by donating some of our demersal frames to the Department’s Send Us Your Skeletons sampling program.

The more samples the scientists get – the clearer and more robust picture they can build of the stocks’ health. So do the right thing by the fish and help the Department collect more samples by donating some of your frames to science (you can keep the wings and the cheeks – they just need the heads and the guts intact).

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT’S SEND US YOUR SKELETONS PROGRAM

So, we hope you get to bag a demersal or two for Christmas – but let’s continue to work together to ensure the recovery continues to progress and that there will be plenty of these fantastic fish to go at for us and for future generations of West Aussie fishers.

Looking back, looking forward – new Fisheries Minister announced

On 18 December Premier Mark McGowan announced a reshuffle of his cabinet with Minister Dave Kelly moving out of the Fisheries Portfolio and Minister Peter Tinley stepping into the role.

Dave Kelly at the Harvey Dam marron release earlier this month

Dave Kelly had been the Minister for Fisheries since the 2017 election, and his tenure yielded some ground-breaking initiatives that will benefit recreational fishing in this state for years to come.

Minister Kelly oversaw the changes of barra netting from King Sound in Derby after a joint proposal between Recfishwest and WAFIC (Western Australian Fishing Industry Council) that would solve resource sharing issues in proximity to Derby. This was the first time recreational fishing licence money had been used to resolve such a conflict in a specific area, and the decision set a precedent for the way Recfishwest, WAFIC and government can work towards agreed solutions to resource sharing issues.

Minister Kelly also started the process for the Voluntary Fisheries Adjustment Scheme (VFAS) to restore the balance and bring back bigger better crabs in the Peel Harvey estuary. This announcement was welcomed by the recreational fishing community and honoured an important election commitment the McGowan Government made to restore historic catches of blue swimmer crabs and yellowfin whiting from the commercial sector to the recreational fishing community.

Minister Kelly also helped launch a number of key fishing initiatives including:

Dave Kelly at the launch of WA’s three year FAD trial
  • The State’s first state-wide FADs trial
  • More barramundi stocked into Lake Kununurra
  • Marron stocking into Harvey Dam
  • New artificial reefs for Esperance, Exmouth, Perth and Carnarvon
  • Support of Recfishwest’s Statewide Fishing Safety Strategy
  • Opening cray fishing all year round
  • Economic Dimensions of Recreational Fishing in WA – a $2.4 billion industry
  • Continued support and funding for Fishability
  • Launching the new WA Inland Fisheries Research Advisory Committee
  • Opening the South West freshwater fishing season all year
The new minister for fisheries Hon Peter Tinley AM MLA

We thank Minister Kelly for his contributions during his time as Minister of the Fisheries Portfolio and wish him the best in his new portfolio.

Recfishwest welcome Minister Tinley into the role of Fisheries Minister and we are sure the positive relationship we currently have with the McGowan government will continue with more positive and innovative ways to ensure West Aussies have safe, accessible, sustainable and enjoyable fishing experiences forever.

Breaking News – Crab Review

BREAKING NEWS!

A discussion paper release by DPIRD this afternoon calls into question the resilience of crab breeding stocks under current management arrangements and highlights an urgent need to better protect breeding stock.

Recreational fishing surveys since 2011 have clearly shown the blue swimmer crab is far and away the most caught species by fishers around Western Australia.

Particular concerns focus on increasing the protection for mated, pre-spawn female crabs which become highly vulnerable to capture in late autumn, winter and spring.

Recfishwest has held similar concerns for over a decade.

The Department have presented the following options for consideration:
1. Male-only fishery
2. Increase in the Minimum Legal Size (MLS)
3. Reducing fishing effort for all sectors when female crabs are vulnerable to capture
4. Patchwork closures for where female crabs aggregate
5. Broad-scale area closures when females are more vulnerable to capture

Attention is being focussed across the entire resource to ensure all areas of breeding stock vulnerability are addressed and includes all estuaries and ocean fishing for crabs from Perth to Geographe Bay.

In weighing up the options, the Department has identified broad scale seasonal closures (May to Nov) as the most balanced option to achieve the desired objective.

We are pleased to have the opportunity to put forward the community’s views.
Once we have fully digested the discussion paper, we will publish a short online survey, summarising the options and seeking your feedback.

Given that these fisheries account for around 90% of the state’s recreational crab catch, we urge you to have your say.

See the discussion paper summary here: http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/…/public_comme…/fmp288-summary.pdf

Déjà vu for WA fishers as State Government get their hooks into licence fees… again

Fast facts:

  • Second fishing licence fee increase in 12 months;
  • Recfishwest was not consulted; and
  • Recfishwest will be pushing hard to ensure every cent of the additional money delivers maximum benefit to the fishing community.

Despite promising no surprises in this year’s budget, recreational fishers will be in for an unpleasant surprise when they come to renew their fishing licences after another $5 increase in the cost of each of the fishing licences was announced.

This is the second $5 rise in fishing licence fees in the past 12 months.

Recfishwest do not support these increases, we were not consulted about them, we don’t believe they are necessary and we have not been advised how the additional money will be used.

Recfishwest Acting Chief Executive Officer Leyland Campbell said the State Government have made the wrong decision.

“If revenue is a genuine concern to Government, we believe there are far better options to assist with the cost of managing recreational fishing, such as addressing known inefficiencies in the current recreational fishing budget, reviewing the entire licence framework, or investing in projects to increase participation rates in licenced fisheries,” he said.

“Increasing recreational fishing licence fees should not be the first option considered.  Not many businesses would survive if they simply looked to raise prices every time they wanted more money.”

Recfishwest understand there are significant costs involved in managing recreational fishing. However, Leyland said fishers already contribute more than their fair share towards the cost of managing recreational fishing through $8 million in licence fees they currently provide the government every year.

“I don’t know of any other group that contributes so much towards managing their recreational activity and unfortunately as costs have gone up, the service that is being provided has gone down,” he said.

In the past 12 months recreational fishing priority projects have been delayed, reviews of important recreational fisheries have stalled, management changes to improve fishing are not being progressed and now when someone buys a fishing licence they are not provided with a rule book to help them understand what they are and are not allowed to do.

“Any increase in fees should be accompanied by an equivalent increase in service,” Leyland said.

“This did not happen last time the government raised fees and there is no reason to believe service will improve with the new fee increases.”

Recfishwest fears participation rates could even fall as many people are now likely to think twice about whether they can afford to go fishing or worse, they may choose to fish without a licence placing them in danger of prosecution.

Recfishwest will be pushing hard to ensure every cent of the additional $1 million the Government will receive from this increase, plus the additional $1 million they are already receiving from last year’s fee increase is accounted for and delivers maximum benefit to the fishing community.

Although the Minister has promised there will be no more increases in licence fees during this term of Government this promise will be of no comfort to fishers who were already paying the highest recreational fishing fees in the country.

New Pricing for recreational fishing licences below:

Fishing from boat (State-wide) $35 + $5 = $40

Rock Lobster  $45 + $5 = $50

Sout West freshwater angling $45 + $5 = $50

Net fishing (haul, set, throw) $45 + $5 = $50

Abalone $45 + $5 = $50

Marron $45 + $5 = $50

Cray Diving Rules Set To Be Clarified

In July’s edition of Recfishwest’s Broadcast newsletter, we stated our firm belief that people diving for crays must be afforded the same opportunity as those who use pots and be given 5 minutes to sort their catch once safely aboard their boat. Recfishwest wrote to the Minister of Fisheries who subsequently requested Fisheries liaise with Recfishwest to ‘review fishing arrangements prior to the season commencement.’

Recfishwest is continuing to work with Fisheries in an effort to provide fishers with a clear set of rules that allows for the practicalities of diving and address our concerns. All fishers deserve rules that are clear, simple and fair.

Recfishwest’s position has not changed:

“While divers should make all attempts to measure and count lobsters as accurately as possible in the water, common sense allowances must be made given the often challenging conditions associated with diving in WA.

Once aboard the safety of the boat it is only fair and reasonable that divers are provided a 5 minute opportunity to make a secondary check for protected lobster (e.g. undersize, tar spot, setose) or lobsters in excess of the bag limit, and return to the water any lobster that may have inadvertently been caught.” Recfishwest CEO Dr. Andrew Rowland. 

Why does it matter?

The current (recently amended) interpretation of rules for divers are unclear and do not support the best possible safety outcomes or provide for the best possible fishing experiences.

It is important fishing rules balance the need for safe, quality fishing experiences with the appropriate level of compliance and education to support long-term sustainability. Given there are zero sustainability concerns in regards to crays the rules need to focus on optimising fishing experiences and diver safety.

The current interpretation of the rules and the lack of clarity around a 5 minute period places unnecessary pressure to check catches underwater and to spend more time in the water than is otherwise necessary. In the case of free divers this increased time underwater greatly increases the risk of shallow water blackout.

It is also important rules are interpreted in a way that reflects community expectations about how publicly owned aquatic resources are accessed and managed. The rules must be clear, simple, fair and they must provide for the long accepted practice of completing the fishing activity once safely aboard the vessel.

If you’d like to listen to what Recfishwest’s CEO Dr Andrew Rowland had to say on ABC South Coast in  July, 2017, press play below. 

Recreational Netting Under Review – Have Your Say

Last month Recfishwest were pleased to receive a letter from Fisheries Division of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (Fisheries) informing us of an upcoming review of recreational set and haul netting with the aim of simplifying the rules and developing practical management arrangements.

In order to provide Fisheries with advice about recreational netting that adequately reflects current community activities and attitudes, we have developed an online survey through which you can share your views.

If you are passionate about netting (either supportive or against) this opportunity to shape the rules should not be missed.

Complete the survey here.

Diving For Rock Lobster – Our Position

In response to discussion on social media relating to the taking of rock lobster by divers, Recfishwest would like to put forward our position on the matter.

Recfishwest believe that people diving for crays must be afforded the same rules as those who use pots and be given a reasonable opportunity of 5 minutes to sort their catch when they return to the boat.

This would allow divers to accurately check for spawning conditions such as fine hairs on setose lobster whilst out of the water.

It is the view of Recfishwest that within the bounds of sustainability and in order to maximise recreational fishing experiences, management arrangements for this recreational-only component of the fishery should have significant input from the users themselves.

We always believed there has to be a better way to resolve this case than through the legal system simply to satisfy the legislative curiosity of a government Department. We’ve been calling on the Division of Fisheries to work with the community to clarify the rules on this matter over the last year.

If the law does not clearly state how you are allowed to fish then it is not a good law and needs to be changed – it’s as simple as that.

Recfishwest has written to Minister Kelly requesting changes to this regulation prior to the start of the 2017/18 Rock Lobster season.

If you’d like to listen to what Recfishwest’s CEO Dr Andrew Rowland had to say on ABC South Coast on July 7, 2017, click the link below.

Fishing Services Remain Despite Amalgamation

As of July 1, 2017, the Western Australian Department of Fisheries’ time as a stand-alone agency came to an end, after its amalgamation with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Regional Development into what will now be known as the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). This change came about as part of the Government’s amalgamation plan, cutting the number of Government agencies from 41 to 25.

Although this brings to an end the last remaining stand-alone fisheries department in Australia, Recfishwest has been assured by the Minister that recreational fishers will see no loss of service for the pastime we all love.

As part of their election commitments to recreational fishing, the Government committed to continuing the funding of the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund, which has provided benefits such as Artificial Reefs , FADs, stocking of species such as Mulloway, Barramundi and School Prawns as well as providing vital research into key recreational fishing species so as to better inform ongoing management measures.

The Government has also reassured its commitment to funding Recfishwest, to ensure that fishers have a strong connection to decision makers. Recreational fishing is an important part of our lifestyle and culture, and reports from throughout the state indicate that the quality of fishing experiences available is world class. Fishing provides well-documented health and wellbeing benefits as well as driving tourism in which boosts regional economies.

We are pleased to see the Government’s continued commitment to fishing in this great state.

Recfishwest looks forward to working with DPIRD to ensure that West Aussies continue to have safe, sustainable, accessible and enjoyable fishing experiences and will continue to work to ensure that all current services to recreational fishing will remain.