With the next west coast demersal closure kicking off at midnight on Monday, 1 August until the start of the two-week long September/October school holidays (re-opening September 23), it doesn’t mean fishers have to stop wetting a line with plenty of other great fishing options available.
From squid and King George whiting across the broken sand and weed patches within our Sounds and sheltered bays, to herring and tailor off beaches, rockwalls and jetties, or targeting rainbow and brown trout in our pristine South-West rivers and dams – we are very lucky to have numerous options available to us.
Not only does targeting different species expand your fishing skills while giving demersals a break – but trolling for some tuna, jigging for a Samson fish, throwing out a squid jig for some tasty calamari or flicking soft plastics around for five-star quality redfin perch can still provide you with a delicious feed.
The latest west coast demersal closure again highlights the need to find a better and fairer way of managing the west coast demersal fishery that gives families and friends more time on the water with the chance to catch a quality bottom fish.
It means the Government has a golden opportunity to deliver a better return for the recreational fishing community and restore a more equitable share of demersal catches towards the end of 2023.
“The VFAS can potentially pave the way to a fairer and more equitable sharing of the overall sustainable catch between recreational, charter and commercial fishing sectors,” said Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland.
“This is long overdue with 64 per cent of the west coast demersal catch currently reserved for private profit and only five per cent of demersal fish caught in WA waters taken by recreational fishers. There has to be a better way to maximise the social and economic benefits from the sustainable catch for the Western Australian community – that is what the Government is obliged to do by its own legislation.
“And that means giving back mums, dads, families and friends more time back out on the water with the chance to catch a demersal scalefish for dinner.”
The push from the Town of Cambridge to ban all forms of land-based fishing along a popular fishing coastline between City Beach and Floreat has been slammed by the metro fishing community.
Last week, the Town of Cambridge pushed to ban all forms of land-based fishing in just over two weeks’ time along a 1,200m stretch of popular fishing coastline from around 50m south of the City Beach groyne up to the Floreat Surf Lifesaving Club to the north.
This stretch of coastline has provided some of Perth’s best land-based fishing experiences for generations and includes Floreat beach, which has been a much-loved fishing spot known for producing great catches of whiting, herring, tarwhine, tailor and mulloway.
It follows what the Town of Cambridge says is a number of shark fishing instances in the area over the summer, despite only one complaint on this along the same stretch between January 2022 and January 2023.
“It’s utterly ridiculous and ludicrous by the local Government and they don’t have the understanding, the ability or the knowledge of fishing to be able to create good public policy around fishing. To ban all fishing because the council have an issue with sharks is akin to stopping all cars on the road because there is an issue with speeding. It’s just bizarre that they would go down this pathway,” said Recfishwest Operations Manager Leyland Campbell on ABC Mornings last week with Nadia Mitsopoulos.
“This council proposal would stop little kids from having a dab net walking around the groyne and going for crabs or fishing for herring and whiting off the beach, it’s just madness. This is a State issue and it should be managed through State fisheries legislation.
“This stretch is one of the most iconic beach fishing locations in the Perth metro area and this is just an overreaction that completely ignores all the wellbeing, health and economic benefits that fishing provides. There has been no consulation with Recfishwest as the peak body for recreational fishing on this proposal.”
This contentious proposal has been widely condemned by the metro fishing community, with 6PR announcer Karl Langdon labelling the proposed ban an “absolute joke” and adding the groynes in this area are “one of the most accessible fishing platforms for parents to teach their kids how to fish and for those that are less able-bodied.”
Recfishwest recognises shore-based fishing for large “trophy” sharks (greater than three metres) at popular swimming beaches does not meet the community’s expectations of responsible behavior and is currently in discussion with the Minister for Fisheries on how best to address this specific matter.
Recfishwest believe State-based Fisheries legislation is and should remain the overriding legislation governing fisheries in Western Australia and LGA’s should stick to managing roads, rubbish and rates and leave recreational fisheries management to the State.
This ludicrous proposal will be open for public comment soon and we will keep you updated and informed on how you can tell the Town of Cambridge exactly what you think. We will continue to fight for the rights of recreational fishers across WA and together we can put a stop to this outrageous proposal – stay tuned.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’ onceit isusually only going to go one way from there. Sharks are opportunistic predators andif they get a free feed of a big demersalspecies, they are going to stick around and attack any other fish that is hooked. Avoidgiving the ‘taxman’ a free lunch at the expense of our demersal stocks – move spots.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 of17 recommendationsin July to help inform the current consultation process. An eight or nine-month west coast demersal fishing closure was neverpart 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.
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.