Playing your part in ensuring a better future for west coast demersals

While many fishers are understandably frustrated by the Fisheries’ Minister’s final decision on the future management of the west coast demersal fishery, it is clear we all need to do what we can to ensure better stewardship of these fish and to reduce fishing mortality.  

For the overwhelming majority of recreational fishers who care about these iconic fish, this is simply the right thing to do – but it also will help to further speed up the recovery of the demersal fish stocks, potentially leading to a quicker relaxing of the fishing restrictions put in place.  

Fishing mortality is the number of fish that die as a result of fishing – that does not just mean fish that end up in the esky, it also includes fish that expire because of barotrauma, bad handling, deep-hooking injuries and shark bite-off.  

Recfishers already have a very strong track-record in looking after demersals. This includes supporting increased spawning closures for pink snapper in Cockburn Sound, initiating and supporting the compulsory use of release weights, forming the Snapper Guardians stocking program and playing our part in providing samples for DPIRD’s Send Us Your Skeletons program, to mention just a few examples. 

Recfishwest is also preparing to launch the Dhufish Forever Alliance – a broad-based community alliance calling for and supporting better stewardship, better science and better management to result in a better future for west coast demersal fish.  

For all of that though, we still need to do better collectively to reduce the number of fish dying as a result of fishing, because: 

a) It’s the right thing to do and will help speed up the recovery rate; and  

b) It will give us a better chance of seeing the current rules relaxed quicker – at the moment DPIRD scientists calculate that for every two dhufish released, one will die as a result of post-release mortality. If we can reduce the number of fish released through better fishing behaviour, the stocks will rebuild quicker, resulting in better fishing experiences.  

Demersal species such as dhufish have a high post-release mortality rate and should not be targeted for catch and release fishing. Image: Marco Fraschetti.

How can you do your bit?  

Below are some of the things we should all be doing to cut down on the number of fish dying that you are not taking for the table.  

Catch and release fishing for demersals is not OK

Demersals are particularly vulnerable to barotrauma, particularly when caught in depths greater than 30 metres. Research on dhufish shows a substantial proportion of fish caught at depths over 30m die when released, with survival rate decreasing the deeper the fish are caught. 

And it’s not just barotrauma that can kill released fish – bad handling, deep-hooking and being preyed on by sharks before and after being caught and released – all takes its toll on fish numbers.  

If you see or hear people bragging about the number of dhuies they caught and released in their session, perhaps have the conversation with them in a reasoned way. Accepting and understanding that demersals are not catch and release species is in everyone’s best interest.      

Demersals should not be regarded as a sportfish. Once you’ve got what you need – and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fish up to your bag limit either – stop fishing for demersals and try your luck on other species.  

Targeting pelagic or inshore species other than demersal finfish are always great alternatives when fishing. Trolling for pelagics such as tuna can be a great adrenaline rush, while fishing for squid can provide a delicious feed. Image left: Fishin’Wishin Life

Switch your fishing

There are plenty of other options – troll for some tuna, jig for a Samson fish, target yellowtail kingfish around shallow reefs – come inshore with smaller baits for whiting or put a jig out for some tasty squid.  

While dhuies and snapper have been the mainstay of recreational boat fishing for decades, there are many excellent options for catching a feed of fish along the west coast.  

Use release weights to return demersal finfish species in water depths greater than 10m 

A release weight – a simple device, pioneered by West Australian anglers, allows demersal finish to be returned to the depth they were caught from quickly, helping reduce the effects of barotrauma and assisting in recovery.  

Legally, you have to have a release weight on board – but make sure they’re not just there for show. You can find our guide on how to use release weights here.

Release weights must be carried on board boats and are the best way of quickly returning unwanted demersal fish to the depths they were caught from to reduce the effects of barotrauma and increase the fish’s odds of survival.

Handle with care and release unwanted fish quickly  

Fish gills contain fragile blood vessels which can become easily damaged by human hands and excessive force. So, if you’re going to return a fish, avoid sticking your hands in behind the fish’s gill plates and keep your fingers away from their eyes.  

Cradle the fish by placing your wet hands and forearm (if additional support is required) under its belly and supporting its body weight, with the other hand around the tail.  

You also want to avoid placing the fish on a hot deck. If you can do it, keeping the fish in the water while unhooking and attaching a release weight is the best way. if however, you are going to bring the fish on board, you can either cradle your catch gently while unhooking or place the fish on a wet towel or brag mat.  

Use a good pair of pliers to remove the hooks from the fish – if the fish is deep-hooked, cut the line off as close to the fish’s mouth as possible. Trying to get the hook out when a fish is deep-hooked can lead to fatal damage to its vital organs.  

If you want to take a picture of your catch before releasing it, have your phone or your camera gear to hand and ready to go so a fish can be photographed and returned as quickly as possible with minimal fuss.  

Click here to read Recfishwest’s correct fish handling practices  

It is crucial to handle demersal finfish correctly by avoiding touching their gills, cradling the fish’s belly, not placing them on hot surfaces, using pliers to remove hooks and cutting the line as close to the fish’s mouth as possible if they are deep-hooked. (Image left: Marco Fraschetti. Image right: Paul Cunningham).

Look after the fish you’re keeping

A fish’s eating quality starts deteriorating from the moment it is caught, so dispatch it quickly and get it in an ice slurry to keep it fresh. These are prized fish, and we want to ensure the best possible eating quality is maintained. 

Change up your spot if sharks are around  

If you get ‘sharked’ once it is usually only going to go one way from there. Sharks are opportunistic predators and if they get a free feed of a big demersal species, they are going to stick around and attack any other fish that is hooked. Avoid giving the taxman a free lunch at the expense of our demersal stocks move spots.

Click here for the best tips on avoiding sharks from accomplished fishers and tackle store experts.

If any of your demersal catches start falling victim to shark bite-off, it is time to move spots immediately. Do not try and battle it out against the ocean’s most adapted marine predator.

Join our Dhufish Forever Alliance

We want to build an alliance everyone can get behind who cares about the future of dhufish and all our west coast demersals. By joining the alliance, you will be demonstrating your commitment to ensuring there will be plenty of these fantastic fish around for us all to enjoy in the future. 

Click here for more details on Recfishwest’s Dhufish Forever campaign and how to join it

Working together to protect our image

If you’re already doing all of the things above, that’s great, but you can still play your part by encouraging friends, family, members of your fishing club or in your fishing social media forums to do the same.  

If anything, the last few months have shown us we need to work together more as a community to protect these important fish – one of the practical ways you can do that is by engaging with other fishers and encouraging them to do the right thing as well. 

With our way of life under increasing pressure from stringent fishery management rules, some conservationists’ and animal rights activists’ agendas, we also need to give some thought as to how our behaviour comes across to the wider community and other groups.  

For example, while it may get some likes off your mates on Facebook, is hanging a bloody dhuie from your backyard washing line for a trophy shot a good look? Is that really respecting these fantastic fish that give us all so much pleasure and magic fishing experiences?  

We are not talking about being the fun police here, everyone has the right to do what they want so long as it is within the boundary of the law.  

However, we can all play a role in calling this kind of stuff out in a reasonable and reasoned manner as it could impact on all of our fishing experiences. 

If we all work together to improve the stewardship of these fish and reduce demersal mortality rates, we will speed up the recovery of the demersal fish stocks, potentially leading to a quicker relaxing of the fishing restrictions put in place for more better experiences catching these special fish.

Banner image credit: Fishin’Wishin Life & Marco Fraschetti

Government’s six-month west coast demersal ban an unreasonable, unnecessary overreach

Recfishwest is deeply disappointed by the Fisheries Minister’s decision to impose a six-month ban on west coast demersal fishing.

Recfishwest has always supported action but shutting out 700,000 West Australians from being able to catch dhufish and pink snapper for six months of the year is completely unnecessary.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Our sector has a strong-track record in putting the fish first and we agree there needs to be some changes to help stocks continue to rebuild.

“We presented clear, science-backed alternative proposals to Government which would have reduced recfishers’ catches by 50 per cent, met sustainability targets and allowed people the freedom to spend more time fishing with families and friends.

“Yet, the Minister has decided on extended bans for the recreational fishing sector and has put commercial profit over the public good with the lion’s share of this fishery given to a small number of commercial operators.

“Today’s announcement restricts recreational fishers to an annual catch of 115t, a reduction of more than 50% on current catches, while commercial operators will be able to catch 240t, a reduction of only 12% on current catches.”

Recfishwest’s proposals were developed during months of consultation with the recreational fishing community and a specially convened West Coast Demersal Expert Working Group.

One of these proposals aimed at speeding up the rebuilding of demersal fish stocks included a closure during the dhufish spawning period.

“The fact that this closure will not apply to the commercial fishing industry does not reflect best practice fisheries management,” said Dr Rowland.

“Recfishwest also called for a buy-back of commercial fishing licences and welcomes this element of the Minister’s package.

“A commercial licence buy-back will help deliver a fairer, more equitable outcome which will deliver the greatest benefits for the greatest number in the community.

“The Government has a golden opportunity to fix a broken and outdated fisheries policy by ensuring the prompt and effective implementation of this buy-back and reduce its ill-advised six-month ban.”

West coast demersal update

Recfishwest continues to work with DPIRD, the Fisheries Minister and the State Government towards a sensible outcome that ensures west coast demersal fish stocks continue to recover without wrecking the lifestyle and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of WA fishers. 

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland met with the Fisheries Minister, Don Punch, last week and had a “frank, but constructive” conversation around the Government’s proposals – further discussions have also taken place with DPIRD fisheries managers around our alternative proposals.  

“I reiterated our sector’s commitment to sustainability and our opposition to a nine-month ban when there are alternative effective measures available,” said Andrew, “The meeting with the Minister was frank, but the communication lines appear to be now open. While the official public consultation period is over, we have received assurances from Government that no decisions have been made. The Minster also told Parliament he has committed to re-discussing the issue with Recfishwest prior to any decision being made.  

“We are continuing to meet with DPIRD and we’re pleased that the conversation is continuing. We’re having discussions around solutions that put the fish first, while delivering a more balanced outcome than the Government’s initial nine-month proposal.

“As WA’s not for profit, independent peak sector recfishing body, it’s really important that Recfishwest continues to impress upon Government that the 700,000-plus West Aussie fishers we represent, who spend $2.4 billion on fishing every year, is too important as a sector to neglect.

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland was recently on the road visiting tackle store crews from Geraldton down to Augusta to discuss their concerns and views on the west coast demersal issue.

A loud and clear message from the WA fishing community 

Andrew spent the previous week out on the road talking to local fishing club members and tackle store owners from Geraldton to Augusta. The Recfishwest team also had a big presence at this year’s Perth Boat show and we would like to thank the thousands of fishers who came and gave us their support. 

“What we continue to hear from our community hammers home the level of concern there is out there about the future of our fishing lifestyle, community life and associated small businesses.  

“It also highlighted how united our community is in finding a better way to speed up the recovery of the fish stocks without the social and economic fall-out of a nine-month demersal ban. The Government needs to understand this.” 

“The messages we have received loud and clear from fishers, fishing clubs and businesses is everyone cares deeply about sustainability, supports protection of fish during peak spawning times and are happy to support science-backed rule changes. There is also great concern about fair and equitable sharing of publicly-owned fish stocks and the lack of consideration given to the social and economic impacts of management proposals.”   

The online petition is another example of just how much the fishing community’s oppose the Government’s proposals. At nearly 18,000 signatures, it is the biggest online Parliamentary petition in WA history! There’s still time to sign it if you haven’t already done so, but be quick as we hear it is planned to be tabled in Parliament next week. 

How’s this for a show of strength! Lancelin Angling and Aquatic Club showing how united they are on this issue.

What you can do 

While the official community public consultation is over, the Government is yet to make a decision – so you can still make your views known by: 

  1. Contacting your local MP and let them know how the proposals will impact you and your family. Find tips on how to reach out here.  
  2. Calling your local talk back radio station and let listeners know what fishing means for you and your family. 6PR and ABC mornings are great places to start in Perth. 
  3. Writing aletter to the West Australian newspaper - all letters must be SIGNED and include the writer’s full-name, address (not postal) and telephone number.   
  4. Sign the petition if you haven’t already and encourage your family and mates to do the same. 
  5. Become Recfishwest membersto show recfishers are united in support a more sensible outcome.  

Let’s keep working together to make sure the Government continues to listen – our collective voice must be heard!  

(Banner image sourced from Daiwa and Fishin Wishin Life)

 (Feature image sourced from Ozfish website)

An update on the west coast demersal scalefish issue

Yesterday (30 August) Recfishwest Chief Executive Officer Dr Andrew Rowland wrote to our members via our Members First e-newsletter to provide them with an update on the west coast demersal issue. We’ve published the newsletter in full below.

If you would like to get all of our Members First e-newsletters sent directly to your inbox to ensure you are right up to speed with all the important fishing developments in WA, click here to become a Recfishwest member today!

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The Minister for Fisheries announced on Tuesday  that he would extend the consultation period on the Government’s proposal to implement bans on the west coast demersal fishery back out to six weeks.

This extension comes after we wrote to the Minister seeking a reinstatement of the original agreed timeframe. We welcome the additional consultation period.

We continue to meet with senior members of Government to advocate on this issue to make sure your interests are being represented at the highest level.

We are committed to making sure decision-makers recognise there is a better way to speed up the recovery of these fish without destroying fishing clubs, businesses and all the benefits our sector provides to the WA community and economy.

Hopefully, this latest development allows time for the Government and Recfishwest to have a proper discussion on the package of recommendations developed through our Expert Working Group process that was presented to DPIRD (Fisheries) in July.

We firmly believe each element of our package when combined can meet the catch reduction targets required while avoiding the catastrophic loss of value under the current DPIRD proposals.

We want to walk DPIRD through our recommended package and have a detailed discussion around our calculations, which we haven’t been given the opportunity to do to date.

In case you missed it – former Recfishwest CEO Frank Prokop and Ash Ramm from Tackle World Miami discuss the proposed nine-month ban on Channel Seven’s Flashpoint Show.  

Truth a casualty in this process

Last Friday, DPIRD’s Catch e-newsletter sent out to tens of thousands of recreational fishers stated:

“DPIRD has considered feedback and preferred management tools from Recfishwest, the WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) and Marine Tourism WA, and developed targeted management packages for the recreational, charter and commercial sectors.”

We have had clear feedback and concern from our members that this statement implicates Recfishwest in providing support for the current proposed eight or nine-month demersal fishing bans.

This is simply not the case and we would like to set the record straight.

Recfishwest, with the considered input of our Expert Working Group, provided a set of 17 recommendations in July to help inform the current consultation process.  An eight or nine-month west coast demersal fishing closure was never part of these recommendations.

As we have publicly stated a number of times, we believe, as a package, our recommendations will meet the catch reduction targets without the devastating social and economic impact the current DPIRD proposals will have if implemented.

Recfishwest expects all dealings with Government departments to be transparent and, in accordance with this principle, we’ve published all the outcomes of our engagements along the way.

Recfishwest hopes to continue to have an open and trusting relationship with Government stakeholders to protect the interests of the recreational fishing community. Our autonomy on these matters is not negotiable – we operate in these processes in good faith and we will not be pushed into choosing between two unacceptable options.

Stewardship of our fisheries – a shared responsibility between Government and the fishing community

Under the current collaborative co-management model, certain responsibilities for supporting great fishing outcomes are shared between DPIRD and Recfishwest.

Under these arrangements, accountability and responsibility for outcomes is also shared.

Recfishwest, fishing clubs, the fishing trade, the boating industry, and marine tourism businesses do much of the heavy lifting in creating better fishing opportunities and delivering stewardship programs.

In recent times, we have found ourselves frustrated that DPIRD’s regulatory and management functions often do not understand or support the needs of the recfishing sector.

If we are truly to progress with modern recreational fisheries management, it’s time for DPIRD to look at the way they allocate their available resources and provide recreational fishers with support commensurate with our $2.4 billion sector which directly involves a third of the WA community.

Blunt tools

In the current situation DPIRD has simply reached for the bluntest tool in their management toolbox. Given the catastrophic impact a nine-month ban will have on so many families, tackle stores, charter operators and local businesses in popular coastal communities, we are surprised we cannot see any apparent consideration of these impacts within the development of these management proposals.

We believe the current proposed bans tick every box for an assessment through the Government’s Better Regulation Program. A simple Regulatory Impact Statement would highlight other management options that can provide the same protection for fish stocks while delivering a greater net benefit to the community.

Understanding the true impact of these proposals is a critical step in informing the Minister’s decision.

There is a better way to speed up the rebuilding of these fish stocks, which are not in ‘decline’ as has been suggested in the media, but ‘recovering at an acceptable rate’ according to the Government’s own fisheries experts.

We are pleased to see the Minister take measures to begin to resolve this issue and we look forward to discussing reasonable and more innovative solutions that will achieve the required outcomes with much less economic and social damage.

Given the level of angst in the fishing community at the prospect of the damage caused by a nine-month ban, some members of our sector have started a petition to Parliament calling on Government to review DPIRD’s proposals. You can find the petition here.

To all the fishing clubs, tackle stores, charter operators and boating businesses who have reached out to us over the past week with fears that these proposals will force you to shut your doors for good – stay strong. We’re in your corner.

Dr Andrew Rowland
Recfishwest CEO