Local Hands to Build Esperance Reef

Esperance artificial reef build begins

ESPERANCE EXPRESS

Jesinta Burton

Read it online here.

The long awaited Esperance Artificial Reef development is another step closer with construction having officially commenced on Wednesday, June 6.

Local volunteers from the Esperance Deep Sea Angling Club will partake in a number of ‘busy bee’s’ throughout the month of June in order to build the artificial reef.

The $600,000 artificial reef development has been several years in the making.

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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.

Innovative Tracking Program Sheds New Light on Bream

An innovative and exciting fish tracking program is shedding new light on the behaviour of Black Bream and highlights the importance of water quality and complex habitats such as rock, reef, snags and vegetated banks.  The Swan Fish Track project aims to identify how Black Bream use different habitats in the Swan and Canning Rivers, particularly the waters around the oxygenation plants in Guildford and Caversham. It involved tagging and tracking 55 Black Bream and following their movements and behaviour throughout these river systems.

Local bream fishers played a key role in the project with competitors at a WA Bream Classic event using their skills to contribute 20 of the total fish for the project including the majority of large fish over 300mm. The fish were surgically implanted with acoustic transmitter tags inside their body cavities. The tags emit signals to a series of 25 receivers located throughout the rivers. As a fish swims past receiver information on the time, depth and acceleration of the fish is transferred and recorded.

From this data Murdoch University Researchers Jake Watsham and Nathan Beerkens were able to analyse the first four months of the bream’s movement and behaviour. Their results were discussed at the Fishers for Fish Habitat Forum last month and gave some interesting insights into the behaviour of Black Bream.

Bream are Capable of Travelling….a lot!
The average distance covered by tagged bream throughout the four months of preliminary data was 33km with one fish covering a whopping distance of 130km and on one instance a fish recorded travelling 11km in less than 15 hours. When not on the move, fish spent most of their time at receivers in Ascot and Caversham. There was also movement of some fish between the Swan and Canning Rivers, confirming these populations are interconnected. Some of the bream’s movements through the rivers were found to be linked to heavy rainfall events. While bream are hardy fish that can handle a high salinity range, the tagged fish favoured areas where salinity ranged between 10-20ppt.

Low Oxygen Limits Habitat Availability for Bream
Historically big Black Bream utilised habitat in the deeper holes of the rivers and shallower flats provided habitat for smaller fish. However recent research has suggested that reduced flow in our rivers and a build-up of nutrients in sediments has created low oxygen conditions in the deeper holes. This has possibly contributed to decreased metabolism and growth rates in Black Bream and concentrated the fish into shallower habitats.
The data from Swan Fish Track has supported this research showing that bream had a preference for shallow habitat and avoided areas with low oxygen. Low oxygen appears to be stopping bream from inhabiting deeper areas, reducing their habitat availability.

Bream Need Habitat
The project showed fish favouring areas with complex habitats i.e snags and reef/rock bars. This suggests that replanting shoreline vegetation and restoring reef and snags would provide a real benefit to the fish in this system. With more than 20km of built-up shoreline there is great potential to improve the fishery by enhancing and restoring this habitat. If you are interested in getting involved in habitat projects that will make your fishing better, get in contact with the Recfishwest Habitat Officer, Michael Tropiano at michael@recfishwest.org.au

The Swan Fish Track project was run as a partnership between Department of Parks and Wildlife and Murdoch University, and The Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund funded post graduate researchers who are contributing to this project.

The project is ongoing and Recfishwest will continue to reveal more results as they become available. All fish tagged for the project have a yellow spaghetti tag next to their dorsal fin so if you catch a tagged fish please call number on the tag with the location of your capture and the tag I.D.
For more on the importance of healthy waterways and their impact on healthy fisheries, read our article here.

Fishers Want Better Habitat & Better Fishing

What’s your best session fishing for black bream? Can you imagine a session catching over 100 fish, where the bream averaged over 1 kg each…with some up to 2 kg’s?

Local fishers from Albany and surrounds wanting to learn more about why fishing has changed in the area and what can be done to bring back the glory days came down to the Fishers for Fish Habitat Forum held in Albany earlier this month. The forum, which was run by a partnership between Ozfish Unlimited and Recfishwest, provided a unique opportunity for fishers and habitat experts to come together and combine their knowledge to try and work out the key drivers for changes in the quality of local fishing and what could be done to bring back lost fish habitat and better fishing.

The knowledge local fishers have about changes in the quality of fishing in the area provided a rare insight into how big an impact changes in fish habitat have actually had on fishing. An important part of discussions was led by Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan who talked with local veteran Jim Allan and bream young gun Callum Dowell on their perspectives on changes in the area. Both Jim and Callum had noticed significant changes in the quality of fishing and fish habitat over the years. Jim told tales about some epic bream fishing that used to be available around Albany in years gone by including bream that averaged over 1 kg each, with some pushing 2 kg’s while Callum said at its best it wasn’t unusual to catch over 100 fish in a session! Jim suggested that in terms of habitat loss, one of the key changes that had led to a reduction in the quality of fishing was the huge loss of seagrass in Oyster Harbour, while decreases in rainfall were also hurting the system. Callum had noticed similar changes and noted that on some of the flats he fished the sand had changed over the years from being hard and course to soft mud.

It was amazing to see how close the changes seen by fishers matched with what had been seen by the habitat experts, who further discussed how these changes fit in with the changes in fish habitat. Local seagrass expert, Geoff Bastyan, reinforced the changes seen by Jim to seagrass in the harbour and showed how with the right support, it was possible to bring back much of this lost habitat. There was also some great discussion about the import role bringing back oyster reefs will have on the harbour with Black Bream, Skippy and Yakka’s already seen investigating the developing reefs.

Karen McKeogh from the Department of Water also led a great discussion about how modifications to the Torbay lakes meant that a highly productive system went from producing Murray Cod up to 1.3m to now having health warnings. This forum highlighted the importance of sharing the knowledge fishers have about the changes they have seen in their local systems and their eagerness to bring back some of the lost crucial fish habitat, and better fishing. If you know a fish habitat in your local waterway that needs to be restored, talk to locals in your community and get in contact with the Recfishwest Habitat Officer Michael Tropiano to see what can be done in to bring back fish habitat and better fishing.

Everyone at the forum was hugely appreciative of the members of the Albany Boating and Offshore Fishing Club for hosting the event and all their assistance in running the forum and for support for the event from The Nature Conservancy and the Fisheries Research and Development Commission.

Oyster Reefs in Albany

Recfishwest’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy Australia, University of Western Australia and South Coast Natural Resource Management to help bring back the oyster reefs in Oyster Harbour in Albany is starting to pay dividends. Habitat restoration is important to Western Australian recreational fishers and it is hoped the project will help secure the return of the oyster reefs which were once a thriving and abundant part of the Oyster Harbour underwater seascape.

These reefs, which were almost completely removed over 100 years ago by dredging, provided complex habitat for fish as well as filtering water and capturing nutrients. However, like in many bays and estuaries across Australia, Oyster Harbour’s abundant oyster reefs have been lost. This project, which is partially funded by fishing licence fees through the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund, aims to identify and restore oyster reefs to help to improve recreational fishing, biodiversity and water quality in Oyster Harbour.

As the project works towards large-scale restoration efforts from next year onwards, this month a trial plot of native flat oysters will be placed in Oyster Harbour. Around 6000 juvenile oysters which were raised on recycled bivalve shells at Frenchman Bay hatchery in Albany, will now be placed onto new rubble reefs.  These new rubble reefs are being placed onto the harbour floor to provide a foundation for the juveniles to grow on and develop into new oyster reefs, providing high-quality fish habitat and a great new fishing spot for species like black bream and whiting.

This project marks the second stage of The Nature Conservancy Australia’s (TNC) Great Southern Seascapes program. TNC has already embarked on an Australian-first pilot program testing a range of reef restoration methods based on successful overseas reef restoration programs, in Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay. Recfishwest recognises that healthy waterways underpin healthy fish stocks and we strongly support protecting and restoring fish habitat to ensure enjoyable experiences for the hundreds of thousands of West Australians who like to wet a line.

Great Change in WA Fishing Landscape

The addition of artificial reefs has been a great change to the WA fishing landscape in the last three years. Quality fish started appearing on the first two reefs in Georgaphe Bay almost instantly, and the new installation off Mandurah should be the same. Prime recreational fishing species like Pink Snapper, Samson Fish, Dhufish, Skippy and Yellowtail Kingfish love the new structures and take up residence around them. Not only do the reefs improve fishing in the area where they are deployed, they also increase the productivity of the local fishery itself. However, recreational fishers are also finding they need to tailor their tactics to suit these purpose-built structures.

The modules are perfect cover for tough fighters likes sambos and kingies, which can run straight through the reef when hooked, meaning disaster for the angler. That means the bigger fish are almost impossible to stop if hooked close to the structure and it requires fishers to take that into account when fishing around the reefs. For that reason, it is best to avoid anchoring right on the reef (which also means less chance of losing the anchor), rather you should circle the area to get a feel for the structure. Taking into account wind direction and current, set yourself to anchor so you are sitting alongside the reef. Anchoring directly on the reef will lead to heavy tackle and fish losses, but being too far away will produce poor results, so take the time to get it right, remembering that those sambos, pinkies and kingies know exactly where to head when hooked.

Always be responsible and courteous of other fishers in the area, including spear fishers, there’s plenty of opportunities to fish the reefs. A berley trail is a good way to bring the fish to you. Alternatively, trolling around the reefs is a good way to find the pelagic fish which are in the area, while drifting close to it should allow you to draw bottom fish like dhuies and pinkies to your bait or lure. Good luck and send us your photos! Check out this latest capture on the Geographe Bay Reef – thanks to Perth Game Fishing Club’s ‘Hook Up’ Newsletter!

Geographe Bay Snapper Keen Busselton based member Dean Eggleston sent in this item following a competition weekend organised by the Naturaliste Game and Sports Fishing Club in April. “The pink snapper was a surprise that’s for sure, with the weather forecasts being all over the place my brother and I decided to have a fish on the Dunsborough Artificial Reef for NGSFC’s Light Tackle tournament. We had heard reports of some Spanish Mackerel being caught there on and off over the last couple of months. We had anchored up on the middle cluster of the reef in 26m of water at around 6:30am. My first drop on 2kg was hit, the fish didn’t really fight much and I thought it was only something small. 10 – 15 minutes later we had the leader coming up to the boat, I didn’t get to see much as my brother took the leader. All he said was, it’s a decent fish, but when it hit the deck I was certainly surprised. On return to the weigh station, I asked the weigh master for an extra 100 bonus points for pulling the fish out of what we call the Lego blocks, a local description of the 3m cubic structures with big holes in them. They are in a group of 5 only a few meters apart so getting what would be expected to be a feisty fish from them added a degree of difficulty.” The fish weighed in at 9.9kg, quite an achievement on 2kg line.